Red Cross meets needs of victims

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

March is Red Cross Month, and Jakki Caldwell Phillips has had a full month already.

As director, Phillips is facing challenges of adequately financing the Black Belt’s disaster relief efforts.

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This year has already been a strain on the $50,000 budgeted for relief efforts this year. It also drives home the need for trained volunteers in the event the unspeakable occurred.

That’s what happened in Wilcox and Dallas counties on March 1, the first day of Red Cross Month.

There are 18 families whose homes were destroyed or damaged to the point where they were unlivable, and about 50 other summer homes and other structures devastated by a killer tornado that also leveled trees, killed deer and destroyed everything in its path.

A man was killed who had come home for lunch to check on his family’s riverfront property on Sand Island, near Millers Ferry.

Within an hour after the storm, volunteers from the American Red Cross of Central Alabama’s Black Belt Service Center and other disaster relief agencies were on site or on the way.

Phillips said the Red Cross has disbursed more than $6,000 in direct aide to persons affected.

“One of the first things we did was ordered 200 foot longs from Subway,” Phillips said. “We set up our staging area at Riverview Baptist Church, and we made sure the persons left without a place to stay had living arrangements.”

The Red Cross, a volunteer organizations that sees to the basic needs to disaster victims, depends on trained volunteers and donations from the general public.

The Red Cross served meals to 250 disaster relief operators as area residents began to put their lives back together.

“We have issued nine CAC (Client Assistance Cards) cards,” Phillips said. “They can be used for food, clothing and personal care items. We’re also paying the first month’s rent for families who have been displaced and have had their homes destroyed.”

A week before the Wilcox County disaster Phillips made an appeal to the Selma City Council during its Feb. 23 meeting.

An earlier tornado in Demopolis that put a dent in their disaster relief funds caused concern because she said they “have so far to go” in this year.

She told council members of her organization’s plight seeking some type of assistance is making sure the city has adequate shelter space – before its needed.

“I’m coming to you because I’m scared of the unthinkable,” she said. “We have cots, but we also need more blankets, linen and personal care items.”

Phillips said getting prepared is a full-time responsibility.

Their Disaster Training course had been set for March 5, but has to be rescheduled. Phillips and Red Cross volunteers are hoping others get involved and understand the Red Cross is only as strong as persons living in the communities it serves make it.

“Although hurricanes and tsunamis make the headlines, many people forget that the day-to-day work of the Red Cross takes place in communities like ours. And is made possible by ‘hometown heroes’ who volunteer their time and is funded by voluntary contributions from local citizens and businesses,” said Sylvia Smith, volunteer chairperson of local disaster services.

Red Cross Month was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943, a tradition that has been continued every year by every president since.