Out in Texas, Craig Allen had a problem this spring. So many that they filled three 53-foot trailers, in fact. And they’re sitting today in a B.R. Williams warehouse in Piedmont, which makes Allen sound like a worthless sot who dumped his trash in an unsuspecting neighbor’s front yard.
This, though, isn’t about a jerk from Texas. It’s about Jacksonville State University’s tornado recovery and the unexpected generosity of a school with no historic ties to JSU or responsibility to help it rebuild its campus.
It’s about good people helping good people.
Allen works at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, where he’s the director of Housing and Residence Life. TCU’s campus features 18 residence halls, which makes Allen the de facto landlord for about half of the university’s students. Herding feral cats sounds easier. Every 10 years or so, Allen’s staff replaces the furniture in those residence halls, with the frayed stuff worth keeping donated to Dallas-Fort Worth shelters or sold at reduced cost. Some of it gets recycled, the unusable bits sent to landfills.
Normally, that is. This year he hadn’t had much luck unloading hundreds of living-room sets that had been cycled out of TCU dorms and apartments, hundreds of coffee tables, loveseats, upholstered chairs, entertainment centers and end tables. Most of the love seats are blue, the upholstered chairs are tan. “We knew we had to move this stuff out,” Allen said by phone last week. “We had too much. We had a lot of it.”
Then came March 19.
The heavenly twist of that night is that Jacksonville — the university and the city — was fortunate. No one died, a miracle among miracles, and volunteers swamped Calhoun County’s college city. Among them were teams from several other Alabama campuses, Tuscaloosa and Auburn included.
Administrators from the University of Alabama shared knowledge from their school’s 2011 tornado recovery. Auburn University dispatched members of its campus police force and emergency management team. JSU alum Kevin Hoult, director of University Housing and Residence Life at Auburn, brought about 10 people to help paint the former Kitty Stone Elementary School before JSU students moved in.
Late March in Texas, news of JSU’s plight reached TCU. Wheels turned. A TCU administrator asked her colleagues if their campus could help, and if so, how?
“I took a look at it,” Allen said. “We went to the (JSU) website to see the updates they were putting out. On my end, when I saw the residence halls had been impacted, I wondered if they wanted furniture.”
Brooke Lyon’s phone rang in Jacksonville, where she directs JSU’s Department of Housing Operations and Student Life and the campus’ 1,900 beds. Early on after the storm, one of the university’s furniture vendors had donated 100 mattresses because, Lyon said, “We needed them immediately.” And now Allen was calling from Texas. “He said, ‘We have this furniture and it still has some good life in it, we would rather it benefit someone than end up in a landfill,’” Lyon said. And like that, as if it were preordained, a deal was struck.
TCU would pack up roughly 400 sets of living-room furniture in three 53-foot trailers.
TCU would arrange for drivers to truck the furniture from Fort Worth to Jacksonville, a 750-mile drive.
TCU wouldn’t charge JSU for the furniture.
TCU would pay for the trucking expense.
All JSU would do is unload the furniture and use it — either for its students or the Jacksonville community.
One of the trucks arrived last Wednesday, the other two a day later.
Good people helping good people.
Allen calls this whole affair “serendipitous,” and he’s absolutely right. TCU’s inability to quickly discard its aged furniture represents one of the unheralded efforts to rebuild JSU’s campus and aid its students, especially those who lost everything when the tornado destroyed many of the apartments adjacent to campus. Insurance payments and FEMA money only go so far.
Plus, there’s a camaraderie between college administrators like Allen and Lyon — strangers connected by their profession, a la football coaches and professors. “The (university) housing field in general,” Lyon says, “is a very close-knit field.” Hoult, the Auburn housing director who helped refurbish Kitty Stone, is a perfect example, a JSU alum who directed JSU housing for more than a decade before meandering south to Lee County.
“One of the things I love about higher ed is we all do what we can,” Allen says. “Whenever we hear of a university struggling with an incident, we all try to come to its aid. And we know that someday we might need something and some school might come to our aid, too.
“This is an opportunity where the extra costs seemed more than worth it.”
Good people helping good people, indeed.