Minnesota students spend spring break helping Gifford
GIFFORD — Another wave of volunteer help arrived in tornado-battered Gifford Monday morning, brought in by bus from Northfield, Minn.
Thirty-eight St. Olaf College students, part of the Lutheran liberal arts college's annual Ole (rhymes with "holy") Spring Relief service tour, arrived in the northeastern Champaign County village to begin uncovering and removing debris from yards where a tornado sliced through the town last Nov. 17.
"We're a school that really loves to be of service. We realize that we're part of a national community and we want to do our part and be constructive with our spring breaks," said senior Andrew Fuglestad of Morehead, Minn., who helped organize this spring's service trips with 120 students at Gifford and Washington, Ill.
"It's my favorite week of the year. It is so satisfying to know we are all doing good work. It's a way for us to live lives of worth and service," he said.
This is the ninth year of Ole Spring Relief, Fuglestad said. Past trips have addressed Hurricane Katrina relief, a tornado in Alabama, and flooding in Nashville, Tenn. and Long Island, N.Y.
"Originally we were going to Colorado because of floods there. But I was driving back from Chicago on the weekend of the storm here and I had to stop because of flash floods and warnings," he said. "It was a pretty unanimous decision to come here because of the devastation we saw on the news."
Maggie Prunty, a junior at St. Olaf, said this was her first spring service trip.
"I just heard about how great it was. All of my friends have done it and they loved it," she said. "I thought it would be better than a week at home doing nothing.
"It's just kind of a sense of worth and knowing that I've done something for a community especially since this is so much like my hometown (Welcome, Minn.). I can't help but feel for these people, and just their sense of thanks to us has been overwhelming. I couldn't ask for a better spring break than to be here helping people like this."
Will Massey, a St. Olaf senior from Iowa City, said this is his second service trip.
"It's just so much better than sitting on your couch and watching TV, in terms of a way to spend your spring break. You feel that you're useful, and you're with a group of people who have a common purpose."
Joy Claypoole, a freshman, said it "didn't make a lot of sense" for her to go home to Hawaii for spring break.
"If I have a week of time, I might as well give it to someone and help someone," she said. "With the snow gone now maybe we can jump-start Gifford and get things looking better and maybe encourage them because they have stayed strong this whole time. It'll be good to give them some hope and to help them out."
The students, who left St. Olaf on Saturday, are staying at a nearby retreat center and are being fed by members of the congregation at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Gifford.
They're not the first volunteers in Gifford this spring, said Christina Gann, a member of the village's Long Term Recovery Committee,
Two groups — one from a Lutheran church in Forrest and one from a Methodist church in Loda — have been doing demolition and construction work in the village for weeks, she said.
A large scale tree-planting has been scheduled for the first weekend in April, she said, and volunteers soon will be sent into nearby farm fields to clear them of debris before spring planting begins. Gann urged farmers who need their land cleared to call her at 568-7411.