Published: Tue May 31, 2011
Dozens of tornados have touched down so far this spring, getting headlines and attention from relief organizations and volunteers. When one hit Pratt City in Birmingham, Ala., last month, Tennessee Tech University sociology professor Shelley Brown had to do something to help.
For three weeks, the Birmingham native collected donations of basic necessities in a classroom of her church, the First Cumberland Presbyterian in Cookeville. Last week, she drove her SUV and a donated trailer full of supplies to help the tornado victims.
“To me, it felt like a mission. You just feel like it’s right to do something in your gut and you just do it,” Brown, whose father was born in Pratt City, said. “These people didn’t even have underwear; things we take for granted. When you have nothing, you need everything.”
Storms on April 27 destroyed nearly 5,000 homes in Jefferson County, Ala., and the cost to clean the rubble was estimated at $260 million.
Through a Facebook event and a notice in her church’s bulletin, the classroom filled with supplies ranging from toothpaste and toilet paper to tools and toys for children. Brown regularly does community service projects with her classes at TTU but the 5-hour drive to Birmingham was her first time starting something on her own.
“I want to do it on my own but I feel like the classroom is a great vessel to get started,” she said. “I am lucky that I teach classes with 120 students. That’s 120 lives that I have the potential to touch and these 120 lives can go out and touch 120 other lives. I hope that’s my legacy.”
She has been teaching at TTU for five years and was awarded the Love Outstanding Community Service Award this spring.