Donations start flowing to those in need

GIFFORD — The United Way of Champaign County announced Monday more than $82,000 has been collected in the past week for its Gifford Area Relief Fund.

United Way President and CEO Sue Grey said donations to the fund were being distributed Monday to local organizations assisting with the tornado recovery efforts in Gifford.

"United Way is passing on all funds collected without any administrative or overhead fees," Grey said in a written statement.

United Way staff was in Gifford last week, working directly with organizations for the initial response to the disaster.

Grey said that $45,000 were released on Monday, as follows:

— The Gifford school district received $10,000 to assist with student transportation. Grey said school districts are required to provide transportation to their homeless students, wherever they live, even in the case of a disaster. The money will help the district transport children to school.

— The Regional Office of Education for Champaign and Ford Counties received $5,000 to house, clothe and provide equipment for Gifford children and their families.

"These funds will provide a specific focus on school-aged children in Gifford," Grey said.

— The Community Service Center of Northern Champaign County received $10,000 for family assistance. The money will pay for food pantry services, gasoline cards, utility assistance and general social services.

— The Central Illinois Chapter of the American Red Cross received $10,000 for disaster services. The money will allow the Red Cross to continue its services providing food, shelter and case management.

— The Salvation Army received $10,000 for canteen services. The Salvation Army has been in Gifford since the tornado, providing food and assistance to volunteers and residents, along with social service assistance.

— The United Way is partnering with the Gifford State Bank for family assistance in Gifford. All United Way undistributed funds will be transferred to the bank for distribution directly to families.

"We are sharing more than financial resources," said Tony McLain, president of the Gifford State Bank. "United Way has expertise in managing and distributing funds, and will assist our committee in planning and distributing to the community."

Grey said that additional funds will be released in the coming weeks.

Grey added that $54,000 was collected during an all-day fund raiser by WCIA on Nov. 20 and that $10,000 was collected with a donation drive by the Illini Radio Group on Nov. 21.

The Champaign Rotary Club has contributed $10,000 to support relief efforts in Gifford.

Rantoul Rotary Club President Tim Evans said Monday that the Champaign club gave the money to the Rantoul club, which will, in turn, provide the money to the Gifford disaster relief account at the Gifford State Bank.

"We are the local Rotary club, and Gifford is in our area, so they gave us the money to help people affected by the tornado," Evans said. "The generosity of the Champaign Rotary Club is fantastic. For them to step up like that says a lot about their club."

Champaign Rotary Club President John Calderon said he visited the Rantoul Rotary Club the day after the tornado hit Gifford.

"We asked what, if anything, can we do to help," Calderon said. "They told us what they need the most is money to help the kids with transportation to school and bringing kids clothing. So I went back to my board, and our members agreed. We made a commitment to honor their request for money."

Evans said the Rantoul Rotary also plans to take up a collection this week and next week, and the club will match whatever is contributed by individual members.

Martin Conatser of Champaign, past national commander of the American Legion and membership director for the Department of Illinois, will come to the Gifford State Bank this afternoon to present individual $1,500 checks to nine American Legion members and auxiliary members who were displaced from their homes by the storm.

He said the money comes from the American Legion's emergency fund.

"It is our way of helping out the American Legion family," Conatser said. "Donations have come from American Legion posts and auxiliary members across the nation. We pushed very hard to get these checks out before Thanksgiving."

Danville Area Community College's men and women's basketball teams will play for a cause during their first home doubleheader against Lincoln Trail College Statesman on Monday.

DACC athletic director Tim Bunton said all proceeds from gate admissions and concessions will be donated to relief efforts to help Gifford residents rebuild after the Nov. 17 tornado. He added Lincoln Trail College officials also plan to make a donation of their own.

"The more people who attend, the more money we can send," Bunton said in a release. "The kids on all four teams would really like this event to be a success so they can help the people of Gifford."

DACC's Lady Jaguars are set to take the court against the Statesmen at 5:30. The men's game will follow at 7:30 p.m.

Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for non-DACC students. DACC students can attend for free.

In other news, the Marvin Lee Country Christmas Show, scheduled for Sunday in the Gifford Community Building, has been canceled because the building was damaged by the tornado.

"I originally thought about rescheduling, but then I thought, Well, they have so much going on there already," Lee said Monday. "There was no sense shaking the bushes trying to get a new facility at this point — especially with all they have to deal with."

The Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school board last week gave permission for the high school's Interact Club to use district vehicles to transport student volunteers to help in Gifford and other towns hit by tornadoes.

Math teacher Susan Riley — adviser to the Interact Club, the student arm of the Gibson City Rotary Club — told the board she had signed up to be notified when help is needed.

"This is in our own backyard, so I feel like we are obligated to help out with that," Riley said. "There are definitely going to be opportunities (to help) within 40 to 50 miles of us, but they are going to come very quickly."

The high school group has experience in relief efforts. Riley recently returned from Moore, Okla., the town devastated by an EF-5 tornado in May 20. And the Interact Club has taken five service trips to Joplin, Mo., which was hit by a tornado in May 2011.

"It's a huge experience," Riley said. "You can't believe that Mother Nature has that kind of force, and the people you run into and the gratitude they have. You're thinking: 'I'm just picking up some sticks. It's not that big of a deal.' But it's a huge deal to those people."

News-Gazette staff writer Noelle McGee and correspondent Brendan Quealy contributed to this story.

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