Red Cross volunteers step into the breach

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 5, 2005

By The Selma Times-Journal

Even before Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast, volunteers with the Black Belt Chapter of the American Red Cross were ready. They manned shelters around the city and had supplies on hand in case disaster struck.

In the days following the storm, as hundreds of evacuees from the Gulf Coast region began arriving into the city, the Red Cross had a place from them to go and a team of caseworkers and volunteers to assist them, according to Red Cross coordinator Sylvia Smith.

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“There was no FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) compensation for the shelter for the shelter workers,” Smith said. “Most of the people who helped us with the shelters were volunteers.”

Over the next few days, the volunteers and ARC caseworkers helped the evacuees receive vouchers and supplies for things they needed.

“We had a long list of people here (at the Selma Red Cross) and at the Westwood Baptist Church shelter seeing caseworkers,” Smith said. “Every agency here (was) taxed, but we got

a lot of help.”

Smith said the interview process for Red Cross assistance was “fairly lengthy”, but by Sunday most of the evacuees had everything they needed.

Smith said the Red Cross volunteers worked long hours all week long and throughout the Labor Day weekend helping evacuees.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down. We’ve been really busy,” she said. “This week we’ve been living with our motto ‘Help Can’t Wait’,” Smith said. “We are trying to help as best we can.”

Smith said the Selma community came together in a big way to help the Red Cross and other agencies assist the evacuees.

“We’ve have a lot of volunteers, with many of them helped us to answer the phones,” Smith said.

She added, however, that the Red Cross no longer needs residents to bring them food or clothing to the evacuees.

The Salvation Army is currently coordinating the food efforts at its headquarters at 2104 Franklin Street.

Monetary donations to the Hurricane victims, however, can be made to the United Way Disaster relief fund.

Smith said that tragedy along the Gulf Coast has encouraged a lot of Selma residents and businesses to do what they could to help.