Benny & the Jets Honor Austin Cloyd
Champaign is a happening place today. Ebertfest is going on. For those of you who aren't familiar with Ebertfest, it is a film festival that the City of Champaign, the U of Illinois, newspapers, bunch of others, and Roger & Chaz Ebert sponsor in order to keep the old Virginia theater going. I went to one of the films about 2 years ago thanks to a colleague who had some extra tickets. While this is not the Sundance Film fest, people from all of over the country, and directors from the world, actually come here. Of course, the sponsorships help pay for them to come speak, but they (the directors and artists) do it to honor their friend, Roger Ebert.
But more important, today is "Austin's Day." Austin Cloyd was a Champaign native who died in the crossfire in the tragedy at Virginia Tech back in 2007. (see link for Elizabeth Edwards' statement that afternoon) .
According to the Austin Day website, Austin "spent four summers on missions with the Appalachian Service Project, where she helped to renovate homes. Her favorite task was roofing. Cloyd and her mother, Renee Cloyd, were so inspired by the group's work that they started a similar program in her former hometown of Champaign, Ill., calling it the Champaign Urban Service Project. Austin was also a member of the Champaign Centennial Interact Club." (sorry, had a pic, but it was copyrighted I guess)
While I didn't know Austin personally, I knew her dad as he had worked for the b-school at the U of I. It was devastating for all of us, but especially for him as he had not lived in Blacksburg very long when Austin was killed. But in reading about Austin and knowing her dad, she would not want anyone to feel sorry for the family, but instead, give back to the community. And that is why each year, Champaign celebrates Austin's life by having a day of community service.
As I have been missing Mr. Benny (and other stressful things that have been going on at work), I decided I would not wallow in self-pity (just as Austin, her parents, or for that matter, any Edwards Democrat) by participating in this celebration.
Today, I worked with a group of 11 folks from 10:30 to 12:20 in a project called "A Million Meals for Haiti." I was alone, but the others were from the Champaign Church of Christ College group and they needed one person to work at table number 9.
The event was sponsored by the Salvation Army, but hosted by a non-profit called Numana. Robin, one of Numana's folks, came by and visited with us for awhile. As I was unfamiliar with this nonprofit, I asked her quite a few questions about the organization and how it got started.
Rick McNary is a spiritual man who started the organization because of missionary work in Nicaragua. According to the Daily Illini,
"He says he started working to fight hunger when a young girl he met on a trip to Nicaragua eight years ago whispered to him that she was starving."
Reminds me of when JRE went to Latin America and also to Haiti in 2009, when a woman begged him to take her child because she couldn't afford the health care nor to feed him. JRE and Sean Penn also traveled earlier to Haiti not long after the earthquake this year to deliver medical supplies.
While I'm not religious (and I don't know Rick's political beliefs, I presume they are socially conservative), I'm always drawn to those who work to alleviate poverty, most especially those who are in food insecurity. That's why I was drawn to John and Elizabeth Edwards as they cared about this issue. Can't speak for John, but I know Elizabeth still cares.
I had signed online to work 10-12 today. I had never seen so many people mobilized at once (well, at least since JRE announced his candidacy in 2007). The packaging event was held in former retail store and people were waiting in line outside the door to check in and get busy!
First, we had to put on aprons, hairnets, and gloves. A volunteer came over and trained us on how to do the assembly line, which considered of taking a case of product (soymeal, chicken flavoring of a sort, rice, and some beans), putting it through a sieve, scooping it, weighing it and putting it into a special bag, getting the air out of the bag, using a machine to heat seal it (that was my job) for 10 seconds, shaking it flat, then packing it in smaller boxes--and putting those smaller boxes into a larger one. Each big box held 44 meals (or sealed bags). We put together 20 boxes, or 880 meals, in less than 2 hours.
Like a telethon, someone announced over loudspeakers how many meals had been boxed (sort of like how much money had been raised). When I left, it was over 360,000 meals. I have no doubt the event may not happen tomorrow as everything went clockwork today.
Almost forgot: the woman on the lower right has an adopted cousin from Haiti, so this was personal for her as well.
If there is something I can do for others outside of myself, I am being part of my community but also giving thanks that I can do so for the people of Haiti.
Meantime, enjoy this remake of "We are the World". I told the "Jets" today I would play it in honor of our event. And get outside of yourself--give back to your community or to the world. We cannot do things by ourselves, after all.
What a day! Makes life worth living and remembering those who aren't with us anymore either.