Supporting the Community: Trulaske Student Gives Back in Time of Crisis

Image: Otha Thurmond
Help the life of one person and you can help the community. – Steven Sawalich

In 2020, the spread of the Coronavirus has sent waves of panic through communities all over the world and made access to basic goods and services difficult for many. But, as a testament to the human spirit, times of crises highlight the immense capacity that individuals have to care for one another and bolster resilience within our communities from the ground up.

Such is the case for MBA/MHA student Otha Thurmond (pictured above), who collects toiletries and other sanitation goods to distribute to those in the Columbia area who either don’t have the physical capability or the resources to get the goods themselves.

Thurmond, who plans to graduate in May, was inspired to start the collection by an all too familiar scene by now: empty shelves, aisles of hurried and anxious shoppers, and long check-out lines at the grocery store.

“My trips to Walmart initially brought the situation to my attention,” Thurmond said. “There was no toilet paper, alcohol, hand sanitizer, soaps ... the store was bare. Having a flexible work schedule allowed me to get what I needed right when stores opened but many others don’t have that luxury.”

This is especially true for people who depend on senior services or public transportation, who are already at higher risk than most.

“People take what they can and not what they need, leaving others without,” Thurmond explained. “There are people who rely on senior services to get them out shopping, which may be just once a week. There are people who live paycheck-to-paycheck and can’t afford to hoard a bunch of supplies like others can.”

Thurmond helped launch a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the advancement of Chicago youth in education, professions and the arts earlier this year, and currently serves as its president. His involvement is a testament to his commitment to supporting others. He believes that community is important because it’s how we all develop and grow, and views his sanitation goods collection as a way of giving to those who have supported his own personal development.

“I find helping those in my community important. Though my time in Columbia is coming to an end, I found it important to give back, even during a pandemic,” he said. “I’ve work four different jobs in this community, met people I would have never thought would be in my life. This community has in a sense invested in me, so I felt the need to give just a little more before I graduate.”

Thus far, Thurmond has collected over 60 pounds of goods, including soaps, hand sanitizer, tissues, gloves and masks, and intends to keep the collection open for as long the situation necessitates.

“If individuals are implored to give, I would love to receive donations of goods .... If people have extra supplies that they could share, that would help. We aren’t asking for lots from a few people but a little from a lot of people,” Thurmond said.

For more information on his efforts, contact Otha Thurmond by email at

Story by Seabrook Omura, Trulaske MBA student