By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
About 120 Hurricane Rita evacuees arrived at the G.V. Daniels Recreation Center on Saturday, but many have moved back home or to more permanent housing. The remaining 45 evacuees were relocated Thursday to The Salvation Army on Butternut Street.
The evacuees arrived early Saturday morning by bus and were greeted by city officials, community members and ACU faculty and students.
Dr. Wayne Barnard, dean of Campus Life, said at least 150 students helped prepare the shelter for the evacuees and manned it around the clock. Students began working in two- to four-hour shifts of six to eight, cleaning the shelter, making beds, playing with children, talking with parents and making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
“I’ve heard nothing but praise and thanks from city officials for what our students have done,” Barnard said. “They’re blown away. Every time I go to the shelter, they always stop me and say ‘You’ve got the best students.'”
Barnard said Cory Bourg, director of ARAMARK food service, coordinated the ARAMARK services at ACU, McMurry University and Hardin Simmons University to feed the families twice a day while the local restaurants fed them in the evening. Sharon Allen donated meals for 200 people both Saturday and Sunday night from Lytle Land and Cattle and her new restaurant, Sharon Allen’s Barbecue, respectively. Golden Chick, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mr. Gatti’s also helped feed the families housed in the shelter, Barnard said. The families also spent a day at Frontier Texas and the Abilene Zoo; they also received free admission to a movie.
The G.V. Daniels shelter was temporary, and most of the families have moved on, as was the plan, Barnard said. Some of the evacuees have homes in Texas to return to, but others are evacuees from Hurricane Katrina and are still homeless. Barnard said two families are living in University Park Apartments and others have moved to hotels or other housing.
Barnard said the need for students at the shelter is winding down, and the best option for students to help evacuees is to donate money. Another collection in Chapel is possible, Barnard said, adding students should wait for further notice. Donations to the city may be dropped off at the United Way of Abilene office at 240 Cypress Street, whose fund supports the efforts of the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and other local non profits providing services to the evacuees.
Barnard said he was constantly impressed with students’ attitude and willingness to work.
“They just knew what to do,” Barnard said. “They didn’t even have to be told.”