Hailey Bryant Eason, a graduate student in Lipscomb University’s clinical mental health counseling program, grew up a little over an hour from Gatlinburg in Kingston, Tennessee. She said she remembers spending countless days in Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains throughout her childhood.
“I have many precious memories from that area, and watching it burn truly broke my heart,” said Eason. “I felt that God was calling me to help, even in just a small way.”
Within days after the fire, Eason launched a collection drive where Lipscomb students could bring food, clothing and other items that would benefit the displaced families in East Tennessee.
“My whole career choice is based on empathy and helping others, and I believe God works the strongest in actions rather than words. What better way to show God’s love than to use the resources He has given me to help those who are hurting?”
After contacting Lipscomb’s campus ministry office, Eason said she was connected to another student who had also been personally affected by the East Tennessee fires, one whom she credits much of the drives’ success.
Hailing from Tellico Plains, Tennessee, Allissa (Lis) Leudemann, a sophomore psychology major, says for months her friends, family and hometown have been devastated by the Trail of Tears fire and other wildfires that ripped through nearly 600 acres in Monroe County earlier this year.
“My mom, sister and stepdad are all firefighters and have been fighting the East Tennessee fires since late September,” said Leudemann. “I was personally affected by this tragedy, and was tired of doing nothing while they fought so hard. I knew this giving community at Lipscomb could help me do this one thing.”
With the help of Lipscomb’s campus ministry team, all undergraduate students were notified on Wednesday, Nov. 30, of specific items they could bring to The Gathering Chapel on Thursday, Dec. 1, to participate in the collection drive.
Items collected included: toothbrushes and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, body wash, deodorant, baby wipes, water, Gatorade, pet food, blankets, clothing, gloves, coloring books, snacks, tissue, lip balm and monetary donations to help the many men, women, children and animals who have been hurt by the recent fires. Students who participated in the drive also received one chapel credit.
On Thursday afternoon, Leudemann, moved donations across campus to Lipscomb’s campus security office, where she worked to organize, categorize and box two truckloads of donations. Students also donated nearly $400 dollars that will benefit a firehouse in Ocoee, Tennessee.
That evening, Eason and her husband Zack drove the first truckload of donations to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to help Sevier County Rescue Squad serve displaced families. On Friday, Dec. 2, Leudemann and her mother drove the second truckload of donations to fire departments in McMinn, Sevier, Monroe and Polk counties.
“I am so thankful for the overwhelming response from Lipscomb students,” said Bryant. “Truly, all credit goes to them, especially considering students had less than 24 hours notice, I didn’t expect even half of what we received.”