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Local students raise funds for animal disaster relief
HATTIESBURG – When Petal High School students volunteered to eat chocolate-covered insects for a disaster relief fundraiser last year, they had no idea they would be helping their own community.
“A biology class wanted a service project and decided to raise money for the Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund,” said Dr. Carla Huston, associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the nonprofit board that administers the fund. “The very money they raised is going back to their neighbors who were impacted by the Feb. 10 tornado.”
The students brainstormed ideas for raising money and ultimately decided on a “Fear Factor”-style demonstration. After securing permission from school administrators and parents, they planned their event.
“They had been studying how some bugs were edible and a source of protein in different countries, and they charged a small admission fee for students who wanted to watch the volunteers eat chocolate-covered insects and worms,” said Dr. Brigid Elchos, deputy state veterinarian and Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund board member. “The students were enthusiastic and inspired members of the community to donate to the project as well.”
Now, a year later, applications for relief are pouring in from Hattiesburg and Petal.
“The monies these kids raised are directly helping their community,” Elchos said. “It all comes around. They are truly helping people and animals in need, and it’s right in their own community.”
Alana Donohue, the biology teacher who organized the original fundraiser, is now teaching at Oak Grove High School. She is going to hold the event again but has expanded it with more activities. Half of the monies raised will go to the Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund, and half of the proceeds will go to repair the school.
“After the tornado struck all of the neighborhoods close to the school, my students saw damaged houses and dogs looking lost. I was able to say, ‘this is what the Animal Disaster Relief Fund is for,’ and it really hit home with them,” Donohue said. “They knew about what we had done at Petal and wanted to raise money, too.”
To raise funds, students will sell Earth Day t-shirts for two weeks. The culinary arts class and special education department will bake mealworm cookies for a week-long bake sale.
Bug Bash, the insect eating exhibition, will take place on April 22 at 8 a.m. in the school’s gym. Student volunteers will eat a variety of special insect-garnished dishes, such as mealworm nachos, earthworm milkshakes, deep fried Cajun crickets and live night crawlers. A silent auction runs from noon to 6 p.m.
“The grosser it is, the more the students are engaged,” Donohue said. “But it’s more than entertainment. We’ve had a guest speaker talk to the students about how conservation starts in your backyard and how important it is to look for local opportunities to serve. Be a local citizen first, then a global citizen.”
The Mississippi Animal Disaster Relief Fund was established by MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the Mississippi Board of Animal Health, and the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The fund provided a way for monetary donations to be received and dispersed. The fund is governed by a nonprofit board that includes private veterinary practitioners.
The fund provides immediate assistance to Mississippians during recovery from disasters affecting domesticated animals and supports efforts to protect animal health and welfare in disasters. The fund provides reimbursement for out-of-pocket animal care and veterinary costs, distributes vouchers for immediate veterinary care, supports local veterinary operations, prepares animal care and shelter, provides for emergency hay and feed needs, stockpiles emergency supplies and trains emergency responders.
Guidelines for applying for relief can be found online at https://netforum.avectra.com/eweb/StartPage.aspx. To make a donation, contact Dr. Carla Huston at (662) 325-1183 or Jamie Stennis, executive director of the Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association at (662) 323-5057.