Stuffed! Duke Law students lead effort to fill 18-wheeler
"It will get better. Love, from North Carolina."
Sitting cross-legged on the lawn in front of Duke Chapel as she sorted through piles of children’s books and toys, Kish Vinayagamoorthy ’08 found that handwritten message printed on the backs of two small games. The simple statement neatly summed up the sentiment behind the efforts of Vinayagamoorthy and dozens of volunteers from the Law School and Duke University communities and beyond, who took part in the student-led "Stuff the Truck" initiative on September 13 to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. Volunteers refused to be slowed by the rain that fell periodically through the day, seeking shelter under porticos and even under the donated tractor-trailer parked in front of the Chapel as they sorted through mountains of donated items and packed hundreds of boxes. After a brief stop in Raleigh to pick up still more donations, the truck left the Triangle bound for a shelter in Shreveport, Louisiana, filled to capacity with clothing, food, toys, medicines, and personal and household supplies to bring aid and comfort to hurricane evacuees.
Stuff the Truck was spearheaded by Duke Law students Ryan McLeod ’07, Jennifer Csik ’07 who heads the DBA community service board, and Destiny Duron Deas ’08, and given enthusiastic support by the Office of Student Affairs. Duron Deas, a Shreveport native who secured the donation of the truck and drivers from Tango Shipping in her hometown, as well as the contact with the shelter which her father is helping to run, was particularly gratified by the outpouring of support for the initiative.
"I was very pleased at how the community came together to help out the people who are affected by this tragedy," she said, noting the wide range of volunteers who assisted in the effort–including the international LLM class whose members purchased and delivered 21 air mattresses, undergraduates, off-duty Duke Police officers, and relocated Tulane and Loyola students. "On a personal note, being part of this effort has kept me in law school. It’s hard to be here when people are hurting, and when your family and state are hurting. Everything in me wants to go home. This has allowed me to go home, while still pursuing my own goals. I really appreciate Duke letting us do this."
McLeod emphasized the collaborative nature of the undertaking, aided by the formation of a University-wide panel to coordinate relief efforts.
"I made a lot of contacts [through the panel] that helped cross-connect the University--both East and West Campuses and virtually every school. The Duke chapter of the American Red Cross was enormously helpful in getting the word out, and Project Build got us lots of undergraduate participation." McLeod also praised the efforts of University of North Carolina Law students, who also collected and packed donations, and for the local businesses that helped through the day, notably DeHaven’s Transfer and Storage, a local moving company which donated all the packing boxes–over 500–as well as personnel, and TROSA, a residential drug rehabilitation non-profit whose clients run a moving company and also donated their time.
McLeod reserved his highest praise for the support the students received from Law School administration and in particular, the Office of Student Affairs led by Associate Dean Jill Miller.
"It’s attractive to give students all the credit for things like these, but Dean Miller was our backbone. She, and the whole Student Affairs team, never questioned our goals, pushed us to set higher ones, and stood by us through their successful completion."
Duron Deas noted that the shelter in Shreveport has already placed 750 people with new jobs and housing, and is distributing donated supplies out of a former department store where evacuees can "shop" free of charge. She is confident that everything collected through Stuff the Truck will be both needed and appreciated.
"The evacuees will be able to get what they need immediately, but in a month, when they are on their way back to New Orleans, they will be able to stop off and get things like appliances, clothes, and bedding. You might ask why they would need a coffee pot in a shelter, and they may not need one now, but they will when they get an apartment. So everything will be used. It’s exciting."
- DeHaven's Transfer and Storage
- Great Outdoor Provision Company
- Tango Trucking Company, Shreveport, LA
- Alpine Catering
- Papa John's Pizza
- The Millennium Hotel
- Carolina Outdoor Sportsman
- Duke University Chapter of the American Red Cross
- Duke Police
- Jim Wilkerson, director of Duke Stores operations
- University of North Carolina Law students