BOONE, N.C. – On a rainy spring day in March, dozens of red and white flags dotted a hillside at Appalachian State University in Boone, forming the national flag of Japan.
Each individual flag represented a donation to support relief and recovery efforts in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, raising a total of about $1,600.
Several hundred students and faculty donated to the student-led effort, which was designed to raise not only money, but awareness of the devastation across the Pacific, says Zachary Stirewalt, who conceived of the flag fundraiser.
“I was concerned about the lack of interest in the crisis in Japan,” says the sophomore technical-photography major. “I wasn’t hearing people talking about it and I felt obligated to do something because it didn’t seem as though many people were.”
Working with two other student organizers and 15 to 20 student volunteers, Stirewalt set up donation tables in academic buildings across campus and on the Sanford Mall in the heart of campus, while the student union hosted a table and sold badges advertising support for Japan.
An estimated 300 to 500 people donated to the effort, and even more people have seen the makeshift Japanese flag erected on campus, a result Stirewalt is happy with, particularly given the dreary weather that day.
“It’s been awesome,” he says. “I’ve learned that the universe revolves around everybody, and everyone needs to take part in helping other people out.”
Cash donations will be sent to the Red Cross in Japan, he says, with checks going to the American Red Cross, which can provide tax deductions for donors.
“We felt it would be better to send cash straight to Japan because they would know where their money could be better spent,” says Stirewalt, a Raleigh native.
And building on the interest and enthusiasm generated by the event, Stirewalt, who estimates he spent 60 to 80 hours organizing the effort, is planning another fundraiser for Japan on April 7, assuming spring weather returns to the mountain campus.
He hopes to raise more money and awareness, he says, and has been energized by the positive response he received from his campus.
“People are a lot more giving than I anticipated and they want to help,” he says.