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Alum’s Katrina connections assist with Sandy recovery

Meghan Toomey ’08 helped a Mississippi community rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, and a Catholic church there is now returning the assistance.

Elon University’s 2006 Fall Break Katrina Relief Service Trip to Bay St. Louis, Miss. Volunteers are visiting Our Lady of the Gulf. (Photo courtesy of Meghan Toomey)

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An Elon University graduate whose hometown was devastated in October by Hurricane Sandy sought recovery and organizational advice from a Gulf Coast community she once helped as a student volunteer in the years following Hurricane Katrina.

The response from parishioners in Our Lady of the Gulf, a Catholic church in Bay St. Louis, Miss., was more than Meghan Toomey ‘08 expected.

During her studies at Elon, Toomey led several research and alternative break service trips to Bay St. Louis to assist the church with its own rebuilding and relief efforts. She and the Rev. Michael Tracey, the church pastor, quickly bonded.

Though she today lives in Washington, D.C., Toomey heard from family in New Jersey how much damage Sandy inflicted in her hometown. She emailed Tracey for advice, and the pastor read her email during an upcoming Sunday Mass. Parishioners soon donated $12,260 for St. Dominic's Church in Brick, N.J.

“The fact that they’re willing to donate money while they’re still rebuilding is heartwarming,” said Toomey, a former political science and public administration double major. “It shows the importance of what the Kernodle Center and EV! is still doing by taking students to the Gulf.”

Service Trip leaders Meghan Toomey (left), Molly Dugan (right-center) and Drew Garland (right) pictured with the Rev. Michael Tracey of Our Lady of the Gulf during Elon’s 2006 Fall Break Katrina Relief Service Trip to Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Toomey currently works for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Her drive to help others predates her Elon studies. As a high school student in 2001, following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, she helped form the “Shore to Help” community group to assist with relief efforts.

The same organization came together again from 2005-2008 in the wake of Katrina, and it emerged yet again this fall to help with Sandy relief.

Toomey’s continued efforts come as no surprise to those who know her. Mary Morrison, director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement, said service experiences help shape student and alumni desires to make a difference.

“We know students who participated in our early relief efforts to Bay St. Louis were deeply impacted by the experience and created relationships with the people in the community that they continue to maintain,” said Mary Morrison, “Seven years after the Katrina disaster and here we are with a student from New Jersey whose own community was affected in the same way the community in Bay St. Louis was affected.

“They know how much Elon and Elon students contributed to their community and wanted to pay it back.”

And in a strange twist, Tracey discovered his own connection to St. Dominic’s Church, which received the donation. Tracey attended seminary in Ireland with the monsignor at the New Jersey parish.

He also offered reflections and encouragement for those people who will spend several years recovering from Sandy. “Through Katrina, we got to know people, compete strangers, who we would never have had a chance to meet in ordinary everyday circumstances," Tracey said. "It brought out generosity, sacrifices, and dedication of people from all different walks of life and backgrounds.

“When you see people coming, complete strangers, to help you, it reinforces your belief in human nature and the goodness of people. It gives you hope to know that you aren’t forgotten.”
 

Eric Townsend,
Staff
12/24/2012 10:53 AM