Blacksburg Restaurants Help Hokies United Host Thousands of Mourning Studentsby Omar Maglalang and Tricia Sangalang
News Staff Writers
April 22, 2007
If you looked out onto the Drillfield standing atop the War Memorial Pylons at about 5 p.m. Saturday, you would have seen a sea of maroon and orange.
To the right, a crowd gathered in front of the Memorial in front of Burruss Hall, left after the candlelight vigil Tuesday. People laid flowers and honored the victims at their respective Hokie stones.
Straight ahead stood four maroon and white tents, which provided a covering for the whiteboards people wrote messages on.
Photo by Kevin Cupp
If you looked behind the tents, a crowd of thousands stood in line for food, sat on blankets on the grass or stood among friends talking.
“I was surprised how many people came out and all the vendors that supported us,” junior marketing major Stephanie Smock said.
Students and community members came together late Saturday on the Drillfield for the “Community Picnic and Reflection Gathering,” sponsored by Hokies United.
Hokies United, an organization in Virginia Tech that offers programs and services in times of tragedy, hosted the picnic. It has supported the Virginia Tech and Blacksburg communities during the aftermaths of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunamis in Southeast Asia, and more recently, the Morva-related murders.
Hokies United describes itself as a “student-driven volunteer effort organized to respond to local, national, and international tragedies that may impact our students and community.”
The organization, whose motto is “together we stand, together we serve,” invited all to bring photos and other expressions to place on the “VT Community Pride Wall.”
More than 35 restaurants and businesses donated food, including Hunan King, Cafe de Bangkok, Oge-Chi’s Restaurant and Lounge, Gumby’s Pizza, Hokie House, India Garden, and Krazy May’s Restaurant and Lounge.
“We feel sad and sorry for what happened on Monday. We wanted to show support for the community,” said May Chan, owner of Krazy May’s, located on North Main Street. “We love Virginia Tech. We are all Hokies.”
This is the first community-wide event hosted to help the Virginia Tech community return to a sense of normalcy since Monday’s events. Families and students laid blankets on the grass and enjoyed food and conversation with their peers.
“It’s overwhelming,” Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said. “Just the spirit of the community in coming together. I’m overwhelmed by it.”
Dozens of Virginia Tech students and members of the community shook hands with Flinchum, dressed in traditional police uniform, and personally thanked him for the job he has done to serve the community during the week.
The 70-degree weather encouraged others to throw a Frisbee, walk the dog or simply converse and laugh with friends.Student volunteers manned the tents and distributed the food to those who attended.
T.J. Brennan, an officer of government affairs in Virginia Tech’s Student Government Association, volunteered to serve food at the Bogen’s and El Guadalupe’s food vendor tents. By 6 p.m., the line at the El Guadalupe’s food tent was one of the longest lines in the picnic.
According to Ron Forbes, an officer for membership development in SGA, members and leaders of Hokies United went around the community to ask for donations from local businesses around Blacksburg.
“We called vendors to [publicize] the picnic,” he said. “We just didn’t expect to get a call back so fast from so many of them, and they wanted to donate.
“They’ve showed a lot of support in getting the community out here today.”
According to Brennan, Hokies United started planning the event early Wednesday, just two days after the shootings occurred.
“Under the president and vice-president of SGA, there are 45 executive members,” he said. “All the student leaders just gathered to pull resources together and get the word out about the event.”
In addition, the transition from new executive officers from this year’s board headed by James Tyger to next year’s board headed by Adeel Khan doubled the amount of resources in order for the SGA to help with volunteer activities.
But, Hokies United does not consist of only SGA leaders and members. It includes several other organizations from fraternities to sororities to individual organizations that are willing to help out in any way they can.
“There were a lot of calls and responses from organizations like fraternities who wanted to help out,” Brennan said.
“With all the [horrific events] portrayed on national news like CNN, it’s great how we were able to turn that feeling of anger into a way for us to vent it in our work. So I’m glad that so many volunteers came out to help today.”
The coordinators of Hokies United recruited volunteers mainly by word of mouth. They sent e-mails to listservs of several Virginia Tech organizations, and they posted an ad requesting volunteers on the Hokies United website.
“It was big task to a lot of people, especially with only three days to plan it,” Brennan said. “But the turnout has been great.”
Hokies United also planned the candlelight vigil Wednesday night in addition to the picnic.
“I was surprised that we were able to mobilize fast,” Forbes said. “It’s just amazing, crazy, just unreal seeing so much support has truly showed what a Hokie is all about.