Next time things will be different

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 8, 2005

In September 2003, after Hurricane Isabel ravaged Hampton Roads, American Red Cross volunteers from around the country descended upon Suffolk and surrounding communities to help pick up the pieces.

Things will happen a little differently the next time disaster strikes the region, said Donna Perry, a spokeswoman for the organization’s Suffolk chapter.

A new Red Cross policy has come on line giving local chapters more responsibility – both financially and in terms of manpower – in responding to major catastrophes.

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&uot;We will be more reliant on community resources than on resources from across the country,&uot; said Perry. &uot;Local people and local funds will have to foot the bill.

&uot;National is willing to help us out if we ask but the goal is for each municipality to stand on its own feet.&uot;

The change will be good for local residents, said Perry.

&uot;It means we’ll be able to get services on the street quicker,&uot; she said. &uot;And people (victims) will be dealing with someone they know rather than someone from outside the area.&uot;

Hot meals, which national volunteers have traditionally prepared and delivered in large Emergency Response Vehicles, will now be made in local church kitchens, then distributed by local volunteers. Eventually, the local chapter would like to have its own ERV for areas disasters, Perry added.

During past local crises, such as Isabel, area volunteers had to relinquish their responsibilities to people who came in from other areas to help. Now, the locals will be able to keep their working shoes on.

&uot;We’ve got a got bunch of trained volunteers who are ready and willing to respond to these incidents,&uot; said Perry. &uot;They are thrilled by the opportunity.&uot;

Despite obvious benefits, the increasing reliance on local funds may prove to be a pretty daunting task for the Suffolk Red Cross.

The organization is solely dependent upon community contributions, fundraisers and grants to fund its budget, said Perry. This year, the chapter’s operating budget is around $230,000.

&uot;We don’t get any government funding,&uot; she said.

Increasing local spending means the group will be further dependent on local fundraising.

&uot;Providing clothing, cleaning up, providing hot meals, providing shelter – all of that costs,&uot; said Perry. &uot;Our mission is to be prepared to help in any disaster that happens here.

&uot;Financially, we are not prepared right now.&uot;

In coming months, Perry is hopeful the Suffolk Red Cross will see more contributions coming in earmarked for local use. The local chapter, like others around the country, is experiencing a shortfall in local contributions because of the generous influx of donations that came in to help tsunami victims in January, she said.

For information or to make a contribution, call the Suffolk Red Cross at 539-6645.