Devon Clifton was wide awake in his third-floor apartment as sirens rang and strong tornadoes ripped through western Kentucky late Friday, Dec. 10. The next morning, he saw “gut-wrenching” destruction.

Clifton and many of his fellow students at the UK College of Medicine-Bowling Green Campus can’t drive to class without passing homes and buildings that have been flattened. The tornadoes that struck towns in western Kentucky – including Dawson Springs, Mayfield, and Bowling Green – killed more than 75 people.

To all of the UK medical students in Bowling Green, this region is home. For many, it’s their hometown. And for everybody at the UK College of Medicine, western Kentucky is their community. Together, as one college, students have united for a collaborative, cross-campus effort to help those affected by the devastation.

“Our campus in Bowling Green was founded four years ago to improve access to care, in western Kentucky specifically,” Clifton said. “I think all of us here have that sense of purpose and duty knowing it was our region that was impacted.”

Overall, UK medical students have widely surpassed their initial fundraising goal, collecting more than $150,000 (as of Dec. 20) to provide supplies and assist organizations. That number continues to grow, so the College of Medicine is establishing an official fund to manage the influx of donations.

Meanwhile, faculty, staff, and learners have donated hundreds of supplies such as nonperishable food items, winter coats and clothes, toys, over-the-counter medications, COVID-19 tests, and more.

These efforts have spanned across the College of Medicine’s campuses. In Bowling Green, second-year Abbigayle Rawls organized the GoFundMe page to collect monetary donations. Second-year Melissa Murphy has communicated with local school districts and organizations to learn the specific needs of affected communities. Clifton and second-year Stevie Hoyng are coordinating the collection and delivery of supplies.

In Lexington, second-year Christy Sharrer manages a supply drive and overall project logistics, while second-year Emilie Touma keeps track of funds. At the Northern Kentucky Campus and in Morehead, both more than 200 miles away, College of Medicine students are meeting long-term needs through the collection of nonperishable food, water, and hygiene supplies.

“Even though this situation is so desperate and horrible and heartbreaking, it fills me with hope that there’s so much love in this world and that people are so willing to help their neighbor,” Hoyng said.

With all that has been collected so far, UK College of Medicine students are confident their impact will be longstanding, even after outside organizations have left. But they know there is still a lot of work to be done.

“This is not a problem that’s going to go away by next summer,” Sharrer said. “Next year, it’s still going to be around. And the year after that, it’s probably going to still be around, but this is a great start for what we’re going to be able to do.”

Those interested in helping the College of Medicine’s student-led tornado relief efforts can visit the GoFundMe page.

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