When Alex Rios, a Maryville College freshman from Springfield, arrived at one of the Sevierville donation centers to assist with Sevier County wildfire relief efforts, he soon learned that his ability to speak Spanish would help more than sorting, packing or moving donated goods.
“I chose to volunteer in Gatlinburg for many reasons, but I think the main reason why I wanted to help the people of Gatlinburg was because I felt that I had a duty as a fellow citizen to help out my community and the Latino community in a time of need,” Rios said. “When I arrived at the donation center … I decided that I would help in whatever way I could, so for a solid 30 to 40 minutes, we stacked necessities on pallets, and then I moved on to translating for the people who couldn’t communicate in English too well.”
Rios was part of a group of Maryville College students and staff who volunteered at the donation center on Dec. 11. MC students Myresha Hinton, Nicholas Peterson, Charles Watson, AnneMarie McDurmon, Ana Luna-Gutierrez and Amber Davis Nelson also volunteered at the center, along with MC Center for Campus Ministry staff members Zane Dukes, Amy Gilliland and Anne McKee. The Center for Campus Ministry provides a central location for service opportunities campuswide.
At the donation center, the Maryville College group assisted with sorting and packing up donations to move to the countywide supply distribution center. In addition to translating for people who had immediate needs, Rios worked with donation center staff who were registering people for disaster relief assistance.
“After the wildfires occurred, students really wanted to provide hands-on assistance,” said Dukes, Center for Campus Ministry program coordinator. “By volunteering at the donation center, students were able to provide much-needed assistance and work directly with people who were affected by the disaster.
“They got to know people who shared a heart for service that they weren’t familiar with,” Dukes continued. “For a lot of these students, they just wanted to ‘do something,’ and this provided an opportunity to help a community that they feel connected to.”
For Rios, the volunteer opportunity was an eye-opening experience.
“I think this really opened my eyes more to the idea that disasters can happen to anyone, and without a doubt, material things don’t matter if you have human relationships you can count on,” Rios said.
The Center for Campus Ministry plans to continue outreach efforts in Sevier County during the spring semester.
Other ways the MC community has provided assistance:
• On Nov. 29, Metz Culinary Management, the college’s food service provider, put out a call to faculty, staff and students to help fill the Metz van with donations of food, supplies, water and money for displaced victims of the Gatlinburg fires. Metz also pledged to match all monetary donations for disaster relief efforts, as well as donations collected for bottled water. With help from the campus community, Metz delivered a donation to Sevier County that included 120 cases of bottled water; 78 pounds of food and prepared meals from Metz; eight bags of clothes; and seven bins of toiletries, hygiene products and food. A monetary donation of $659.19 was also raised for the Red Cross.
• During “A Maryville Christmas” concert Dec. 5, the Maryville College Division of Fine Arts raised $1,000 for Dolly Parton’s “My People Fund,” which provides assistance to Sevier County families who lost their homes in the wildfires. The division also collected donations of coloring books and toys for children in Sevier County.
• On Dec. 6, members of the Maryville College baseball team volunteered at a supply distribution center for people affected by the Sevier County wildfires.
• Ethan Adkins, a freshman from Louisville, is a volunteer firefighter with the Seymour Fire Department who was called to assist with the Sevier County wildfires in late November.