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UCSD Volunteers Fan Out Across County to Help Those Impacted by Fires

Pat Jacoby and Ioana Patringenaru | October 29, 2007

From left: Mitchelle Greenlee, assistant resident dean at Marshall, and UCSD students Jennifer Abe, Jon Choe and Daniel Andrade hold some of the items they brought to Qualcomm Stadium.
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As fires were raging through San Diego County Tuesday, members of the men’s rowing team at UC San Diego drove up to the evacuation center at the Del Mar Fairgrounds with a full load of donations. When they got there, up came a group of tall, athletic men to help then unload — members of the UC San Diego men’s basketball team.

The chance meeting illustrates the outpouring of time, effort and concern that UCSD students, staff members and faculty, who were safe from the fires, put in last week to help those who hadn't been so lucky. They volunteered at evacuation centers from Jamul to Del Mar to Qualcomm Stadium. They raised money to buy supplies for evacuees. They helped set up computers and handed out food.

“I think it’s a privilege to go help people,” said Chuck Morgan, an assistant director in the facilities management department and a member of UCSD’s Campus Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Morgan got a call Monday asking him to help out at the Mira Mesa High School evacuation center. He made it there at 2 a.m. and stayed until 8:30 a.m. Then Tuesday, he headed to Qualcomm Stadium, where he helped unload and sort donated food. He said the sight of elderly evacuees was particularly difficult to bear. Many had rushed out without their wheelchairs, walkers and prescriptions. "That was their home, that was where they were going to spend the rest of their lives," Morgan said. And now they might have nothing to go back to, he added. “It made me remember how lucky I was,” he said.

Qualcomm Stadium

Students from the Reality Changers program get to know evacuees at Qualcomm Stadium.

Morgan saw many other CERT team members at Qualcomm Stadium, which seemed to be the focus of many volunteers' efforts. Stephanie Gershgol, a fourth-year pharmacy student, spent four days there helping hand out medicines and triage patients in the stadium's makeshift pharmacy. She napped on a cot, with some of the pharmacy's limited supplies secured in her sleeping bag.

Members of the UCSD women’s basketball team also spent time at Qualcomm Stadium. So did UCSD students who serve as tutors for Reality Changers, an organization designed to help inner-city youth go to college. These students answered a call from Reality Changers founder and UCSD alumnus Chris Yanov. "Students wanted to serve," said Yanov. "It really gave them a place where they could have an impact." Yanov assembled a crew of 47 UCSD students and high school students, who began arriving at the stadium around noon Tuesday and stayed until the wee hours of the morning Wednesday. They split into four teams and delivered donations to evacuees that remained in their cars or stayed in tents in the stadium's parking lot. They handed out toiletries, sun screen, diapers and food. Around 11 p.m., a smaller crew helped set up food for the evacuees' breakfast Wednesday morning.

Other evacuation centers

Meanwhile, other UCSD volunteers fanned out across the county at other evacuation centers. Shaun Travers, director of the campus' LGBT Resource Center headed to San Diego High School. He helped set up cots, blankets and food tables and lent a hand to organize supplies. Then he helped set up computer stations, where evacuees could keep up with news and e-mail updates to family and friends. Travers was there with his partner, James Andrews, a nursing student at San Diego City College. Andrews immediately started running medical check-ups on evacuees, which included about 300 residents from the Mount Miguel Covenant Village retirement community in Spring Valley.

Evacuation Center
Evacuees settle in at Steele Canyon High School.

Travers ran into a former classmate in UCSD's doctoral program in educational leadership, Joe Austin. He now was one of the principals leading the six small schools that make up San Diego High. "I had always told him I wanted to visit his school," Travers wrote in an e-mail. "I never imagined this would be the circumstances in which I did it.  It was good to see a familiar face, and amazing how many folks were there helping out. Most were strangers to each other."

While Travers volunteered at San Diego High, UCSD student April Deibert was driving a truck full of donations to Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley. A friend of hers worked at that evacuation center and  asked for her help — and for her silver Ford Ranger truck with an extended cab. Deibert quickly agreed.  "If you don’t have money, you might volunteer some time, if you can," she said.

She and her friend soon found out that the only road to the high school was closed, but they managed to convince Sheriff deputies to let them go through. In the distance, they could see the Harris fire burning, helicopters making water drops and an air tanker dropping fire retardant. At the high school, they found fire trucks, Red Cross vans, National Guard members and a CNN crew. Deibert said she was keenly aware that many of the evacuees weren't wealthy and would have a tough road ahead if they lost their homes. "It's very difficult," she said. 

To finalize and bring together UCSD’s many contributions, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox and Vice Chancellor Penny Rue have asked that all further contributions be coordinated through UCSD Cares, a pre-established umbrella entity which will serve as the UCSD clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities for students, staff and alumni who want to help recovery and relief efforts. Members who may be contacted about donations include Cynthia Davalos, Irma Velasco, Takashi Matsumoto, Armin Afsahi, Emma Sandoe, Marco Murillo, Patty Mahaffey, Emily Marx, Anna Gandolfi, Richard La Clair Zoehrer and Trish Goen.

Donations drives and other efforts

In addition to volunteering, members of the UCSD community also set up donation drives. Sarah Chang, a Revelle College junior and AS vice president of Finance and Resources, said she and Emma Sandoe, Revelle College resident advisor and Student Foundation president, were sitting around her apartment Monday watching the news “when we decided we had to so something.” Together they e-mailed both Student Foundation and AS members and asked them to volunteer at the American Red Cross Tuesday morning. They found they couldn’t do so until they took the two-hour orientation training — so many did.

Playing for pledges
Brian Park, a UCSD sophomore, performed during Thurgood Marshall TV's telethon.

Others in the group joined Chang and Sandoe in setting up donation sites throughout the campus and near off-campus apartment complexes.  “We wanted to do something because we felt helpless,” said Sandoe. Among members of the AS and Student Foundation taking part in this project were John Cressey, Donna Bean, Healther Sauls, Mary Tharin, Giang Nguyen and Thach Tran. They took three carloads of the donations to the Rock Church distribution site on Rosecrans Street. The next day, they took another load of donations to Qualcomm.

Other on-campus relief efforts include a telethon on Thurgood Marshall TV. The station's crew had set up a similar event during the 2003 Cedar Fire. The evening of Oct. 22, they immediately saw a need. They spent much of the next day getting ready for their  broadcast. By then, the university had canceled classes for the rest of the week, and 190 out of 1136 students remained in residence at Marshall. The closed-circuit station still raised $155, enough to buy baby supplies, including diapers and wipes, which were needed at Qualcomm. "It just seemed natural to do it," said Mitchelle Greenlee, assistant resident dean at Marshall. Her six-year-old daughter contributed about 40 children’s books to the effort. Then Greenlee, her daughter and four student volunteers, equipped with face masks, delivered the donations to Qualcomm, where they spent some time with evacuees.

Marshall TV
From left: Jacques Spitzer and Babak Shahmardi were the hosts of TMTV telethon.

While many contributed manpower and donations, others focused on providing information. Revelle sophomore Luke Si-Hoon Lee managed a Facebook group that featured UCSD-related fire updates and included student discussion boards, student-produced video and photos of fires in their neighborhoods, as well as listings for volunteering opportunities. The group now has close to 4,400 members. “I just did it for the purpose of helping other people,” Lee said. “In times like this, you need information.”

Other student contributions include:

Charles Nguyen, class of 2008, managed The Guardian coverage of the fires with a fire blog, including videos he produced and extensive updates.

Jasmine Huang, 2010, UCSD Tzu Ching organization, coordinated student volunteers and supply drive caravans between campus and various evacuation shelters.

Tommy Allen, 2009, organized a “Greeks to the Rescue” canned food drive.

Jillian Haney and Ann Silvea, 2008, organized a donation drive for fire victims through Facebook.

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