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September 15, 2005

Pitt pitches in to help hurricane victims

Pitt’s institutional response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has been swift and wide-ranging.

The relief efforts have varied from enrolling displaced students and fundraising to serving hot meals and providing medical and personal supplies to hurricane victims arriving in Pittsburgh.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced on Sept. 2 that the University had joined a consortium of community organizations and local government agencies to craft specific ways in which the region could be of assistance to survivors of the hurricane.

“Structuring effective and appropriate responses to a disaster of this magnitude and at such a distance is difficult,” Nordenberg wrote. “However, our University has been attempting to be of help on a number of different fronts,” including both academic and community-oriented efforts, the chancellor stated.

Pitt is working through the Pittsburgh Project, the North Side disaster recovery center designed to provide comprehensive governmental and social services to evacuees, according to G. Reynolds Clark, Pitt vice chancellor for Community and Governmental Relations.

The city was expecting some 300 evacuees to arrive by plane last week, but that did not happen, Clark said. Carloads of displaced families from the affected areas are trickling in daily, with about 25 families expected this week, he said. “We’re in a situation right now where we don’t know how many evacuees are going to come. As the numbers grow or decline we’ll handle that appropriately,” he said.

“The University is acting as first responders to meet their specific needs as they arrive,” Clark reported to Senate Council this week. “These people show up and the only things they have are what they were able to grab in a few seconds. They literally have been wearing the same trousers or shorts and T-shirt for a week. They are almost ready to crumble and they have to have their lives completely re-built, so it’s great to see the [Pitt] response. We’re trying to be as responsible an institution as we can.”

Pitt has provided hot meals prepared at the Petersen Events Center and trucked to the Pittsburgh Project facility to feed transplanted hurricane victims. “Our food service partner, Sodexho, has donated their time and their services to help out,” Clark said.

“The director of the Pittsburgh Project said they were overwhelmed with a lot of ‘good-intended stuff,’ but that it’s not what they specifically need,” Clark said. There is an overabundance of donated clothing, for example.

“I asked Steve Zupcic of the Volunteer Pool and Gwen Watkins of the Staff Association Council to get the word out on the specific needs we have over the next few weeks to help those evacuees who come to Pittsburgh either on a temporary or permanent basis,” he said.

“The response we got was tremendous,” said Zupcic. “We filled over 60 boxes with donated supplies in only about a week. In fact, at this time, we are asking folks not to donate any more supplies. Goodwill Industries [of Pittsburgh] is a major part of our consortium and they’ve said [regional] donations have exceeded the need more than three times over.”

All donated hurricane relief supplies not needed in Pittsburgh are being warehoused separately and will be shipped in 10-day cycles to victims in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, Clark said.

Pitt is prepared to set up housing at the Cost Center as back-up housing for hurricane survivors if the Pittsburgh Project exceeds its capacity of 325, Zupcic said, although that is unlikely.

Pitt also is working through the Association of American Universities to accommodate students displaced by the hurricane while respecting the wishes of those students’ home institutions, Nordenberg stated in a Sept. 7 campus update.

In a joint statement issued Sept. 2, University presidents in the hurricane-affected areas asked sister institutions to admit students on a visiting basis only; to not charge tuition if the student had already paid tuition to the home school or to charge the home institution’s rate of tuition and remit that amount to the home institution if the student has not paid tuition, and to assess appropriate fees for room and board.

“To a considerable extent, these requests mesh with the general plan that already had been put in place here at Pitt,” Nordenberg wrote Sept. 7. “By the end of last week, we were involved in the informational stages of the process of admitting, as guest students, undergraduate and graduate students from colleges and universities closed in the aftermath of the hurricane.”

Pitt has admitted more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students on a space-available basis, focusing primarily on Pennsylvania residents. “This is both consistent with the concept of rationally spreading opportunities to help across the national higher education community and, in the case of students from the region, also may help minimize the practical challenges of finding short-term housing,” the chancellor wrote. “However, because those admissions are not made centrally, we are less sure of their total number.”

In addition, Pitt has extended guest scholar status to faculty from affected universities who wish to use Pitt libraries. One displaced Tulane University law professor is filling in temporarily for a Pitt professor on sick leave.

Pitt also is involved in a collaborative fundraising effort with the Pittsburgh Steelers, KDKA Television and Clear Channel Radio in partnership with the American Red Cross, Nordenberg stated.

“In addition, our faculty/staff Volunteer Pool is organizing to provide opportunities for interested members of the faculty and staff to personally support this regional initiative through their own investments of time,” the chancellor wrote.

(Nordenberg’s statements are available on the news link of the Pitt home page,

Pitt students are mobilizing relief efforts, as well. Student Government Board President Brian Kelly told Senate Council this week that SGB will sponsor a fundraising benefit for Katrina victims at 7 p.m. on Sept. 29 at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial featuring performances by Pitt individuals and groups.

“Soldiers and Sailors is donating the space and the Pitt police are donating the security,” Kelly said. The event will include the Heinz Chapel Choir and will showcase other Pitt talent, he said. “We’re not sure yet if we’ll charge admission or ask for donations, but the entire University is invited.”

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 38 Issue 2

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