Photo courtesy of Taylor Thornton (C’17)
By Lam Ho
In the aftermath of the wildfires that affected thousands of residents in Gatlinburg, Taylor Thornton (C’17) led a fundraising effort that raised $1,358 within the first six days. Members of the Alpha Tau Zeta (ATZ) sorority contributed their time by setting up a table at McClurg Dining Hall and encouraging students, faculty, and staff to donate, and many delivered donations to the ATZ house.
“People have been generous! They have responded positively, and I have had people even go to the Dollar General to buy donations that we desperately needed like school supplies and feminine hygiene products. One person donated some Playstation 3 games, which was interesting,” says Thornton.
Katie Wayne (C’19) says, “Being a Tennessee native, I really support Sewanee’s engagement in helping the communities that have had to endure such trials. ATZ provided a great opportunity for me to aid my Tennessee neighbors and I chose to donate mostly winter items because I know the winter is pretty unforgiving sometimes. I’m very thankful I had the opportunity to help Gatlinburg and hope that my family’s favorite vacation spot can be revived through the kindness of others, such as ATZ.”
Thornton has plans to personally deliver the donations at the Jubilee Donation Center in Gatlinburg. “The money will go to the Dolly My People Foundation, which sends affected families $1,000 a month to keep them on their feet. All money goes directly to the families,” Thornton explains.
Thornton grew up in Sevier County and felt personally tied to the fires in Gatlinburg, which Sevier County and Tennessee Bureau of investigation recently found were caused by two juvenile hikers, who threw lit matches onto a trail on November 23.
“My dad worked there ever since I was in elementary school, so I grew up in the Smokies and walking the Gatlinburg strip… My aunt taught me hiking, camping, and love for nature by walking the gorgeous trails of the Smokies. My family was fortunate enough to not have been too terribly affected, by the devastation brought on my friends has devastated me,” Thornton says.
Sarah Moats (C’17), a fellow member of ATZ, helped to table and raise awareness. “This has been an amazing experience. I’ve never worked on a fundraiser before, but this has been magical,” she says. Taylor worked incredibly hard to throw this together in such a short time, and in that amount of time has brought a large community of people together to donate and raise funds for the people of Gatlinburg. It’s been an eye opening experience.”
The fire initially did not pose a threat to Gatlinburg or surrounding areas, but on November 28, high-speed winds hit Sevier County and spread the embers of the fire already burning in the park to areas of lower elevation. As a result, as AL.com reports, 14 lives were lost, 130 people have been injured, and as reported on December 5, 2,500 residents of Sevier County remain without power.
Thornton urges people to donate to the My People Foundation as well as to go to MountainTough.com and send donations to that address. In addition, brothers of Gamma Sigma Phi went door-to-door to collect donations. “They, by far, gave the most clothing and put the most time and effort into collecting it,” Thornton said.
“I just want to say thank you,” says Thornton. “The Sewanee community has really come together and gotten behind this project, and I am thankful to see that people care about the place I grew up and the people I grew up with. In particular, I want to give a shout out to Gamma, Kappa Omega, Theta Kappa Phi, ATZ, and Phi Gamma Delta for their donations and to the Vice-Chancellor for donating $500. The support has honestly made me feel so loved because I see the love people have for communities outside of Sewanee. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
CORRECTION (12/13/16): The author added new information to the article, including the effort of Gamma Sigma Phi brothers in the fundraiser: “In addition, brothers of Gamma Sigma Phi went door-to-door to collect donations. ‘They, by far, gave the most clothing and put the most time and effort into collecting it,’ Thornton said.”