The University of Montevallo had only one quarantined student when BCM campus minister Jacob Freeman first inquired about how Baptist Campus Ministries could help during fall semester 2020.
When nine more students entered isolation over Labor Day weekend, Freeman asked area churches to help gather supplies for care packages the BCM could use to encourage quarantined students.
“Being so young and most being athletes, they’re sitting in isolation for two weeks,” Freeman said. “Many feel fine and are just bored out of their minds. They’re used to a workout schedule, a practice schedule, seeing friends. Now all of a sudden all that’s gone, and they can’t leave this tiny little room for two weeks. It’s a pretty miserable situation, and I think maybe one they haven’t experienced to such a degree before,” Freeman said in an interview in early October.
Montevallo’s BCM initially collected snacks, gift cards, activity items and copies of sermons for about a dozen care packages, delivering them with personalized, handwritten messages promising prayer and affirming God’s love for each student.
As the number of Montevallo cases began to rise, local church groups like Woman’s Missionary Union at Liberty Hill Baptist Church, Clanton, stepped in to collect enough items for nearly 50 more care packages.
“A student’s life is often so hectic that to catch them at a moment when they will give more than one second of thought to an invitation to consider Jesus is rare,” Freeman said. “This period of isolation … is an obvious opportunity to invite them to consider the gospel.”
The majority of quarantined students were international students or athletes who lived too far away to self-isolate at home, Freeman said.
Most of the quarantined students at Montevallo tested positive through required testing and not because they actually felt sick, he added.
Students at most of Alabama’s public universities participated in GuideSafe, a COVID-19 testing partnership between UAB School of Medicine and the Alabama Department of Public Health funded by the state of Alabama through the CARES Act.
According to GuideSafe spokesperson Ashley Foster, most four-year schools participated in entry COVID-19 testing at the beginning of the fall semester, testing all students before they arrived on campus. More than 40 schools conduct ongoing random testing of a small student population, regardless of symptoms.
Wanting to help
At the University of Alabama, BCM campus minister Kim Andrews said the idea for care bags for UA students came after one student’s roommate was forced to quarantine in a separate dorm after a positive diagnosis.
Hearing of her plight, BCM students wanted to help her and others know they were loved and prayed for by their peers.
BCM’s prayer and evangelism teams partnered with the university to coordinate efforts, and BCM Journey Groups assembled 240 bags filled with hygiene items, snacks and handwritten cards.
Andrews said the bags were supplied by BCM funds from the Tuscaloosa County Baptist Association. The WMU of Friendship Baptist Church, Reform, in Pickens Baptist Association, also donated money to help purchase prepackaged snacks.
Across the state, universities like UA and Montevallo isolated students in designated dorms and supplied them with meals through the quarantine period.
Support for quarantined students has been high, Andrews said, and not just from BCM members.
“From my perspective, the university has been working diligently to meet needs and make changes when necessary in order to keep campus a healthy and safe place to be this semester,” she said. “And this seems to be coming from all across campus — individuals, offices and organizations, doing what they can to help by going above and beyond. For instance, I had one student tell me his professor offered to drop groceries at his house while he was quarantined.”
And at Montevallo, Freeman said participants have been more committed during the pandemic because in-person community is much less available.
“Week after week someone says ‘I’m just glad you guys are meeting in person. I’m going insane in my room alone, so this has been really good for me.’ We have 40–50 students involved. For those who are coming, it’s obvious this is a much-needed time of fellowship and community.”