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April 29, 2011

Auburn football players, Gene Chizik aiding cleanup efforts in Pleasant Grove, Cullman

A group of Auburn football players, head coach Gene Chizik and athletics director Jay Jacobs traveled to Pleasant Grove and Cullman, Ala., Friday to help cleanup efforts after deadly storms hit the state Wednesday.

Two buses carrying about 70 people, including approximately 15 football players, drove to sites west and north of Birmingham where tornadoes touched down two days ago.

“I think it’s important that we all bond together in circumstances like this,” Chizik said. “This is a tragedy. We weren’t put on this earth to be served, but to serve. So it’s important for us to come out to give back to communities in need and certainly this community is in need.”

Chizik, Jacobs, associate women’s basketball coach Kerry Cremeans and other football assistants were in Pleasant Grove, which was in the path of the same storm that hit Tuscaloosa.

The group volunteered at the Pleasant Grove First Baptist Church and Bethel Baptist Church, delivering clothes and over 500 cases of Gatorade and bottled water. They cleaned up debris and offered words of encouragement to those affected by the storms.

In Cullman, volunteers divided into groups and went to home to help remove trees from cars and clear debris from the area.

“It was devastating,” Chizik said. “I don’t even think you can accurately describe it to somebody the enormity, you have to see it. To see families displaced, lives lost, this is absolutely tragic. We’re just trying to give back.

“Today we tried to give back any way we could. We cleaned up some churches, and tried to go around to some different houses and talk to people who lost loved ones, lost houses and cars, to give words of encouragement is what we wanted to do today. Our message today was hope.”

Auburn’s players were in disbelief of the damage.

“It was a disaster,” wide receiver Trovon Reed said. “We saw so many folks without their homes. I experienced something like this before in the New Orleans area I experienced Katrina. Katrina was bad, we had water, but these people here are struggling and don’t even have water. From house to house, I saw a whole block that was gone. Being out here helping is a big thing.”

What did players say to people whose home were in ruins?

“Just to say to keep the faith, keep hope,” defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker said. “We believe in a God and we’re going to keep praying for them. We’re trying to help them to keep their confidence up and that we’re praying for them.”

The Tigers were originally scheduled to travel to the White House today to meet President Barack Obama. But those plans were postponed after storms caused massive destruction and killed hundreds. President Obama is in Alabama today surveying the damage.

“I’ve never seen devastation like this,” Obama told residents of Tuscaloosa. “We’re going to make sure you’re not forgotten.”

Auburn students have put their rivalry with Alabama aside to come to the aid of Tuscaloosa and other areas affected by the storm. The Facebook page “Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa” was founded by Auburn fans to organize cleanup efforts and set up a donation fund.

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