09/26/05 — MERCI volunteers sending more help

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MERCI volunteers sending more help

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 26, 2005 1:48 PM

Volunteers with the MERCI (Marion Edwards Recovery Center Initiatives) Center are still trying to help victims of Hurricane Katrina put their lives back together.

The center is sending all sorts of supplies and hundreds of volunteers to the disaster areas and will continue to do so for quite some time, officials say.

Center Director Barbara Tripp said MERCI is the coordinating agency for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

"We coordinate the early response teams that are going in from outside the affected areas," she said. "That means that people from other Methodist conferences contact us and give us the number of people on their team, their specialties and when they want to go. As a central point, we contact the affected areas. Instead of them being bombarded with 500 calls, we'll field the 500 calls and handle it through one call to them."

So far, more than 100 teams with more than 1,000 volunteers have been sent to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana through the MERCI Center.

Mrs. Tripp explained that an early response team basically does four things -- helps people clean out their homes when they have been flooded, puts tarps on homes, does tree removal and just listens. "With a traumatic experience such as a hurricane, part of the healing process is to be able to talk about it," she said.

Because the center has available space, it is the collection point for materials that teams use in their response efforts.

Ann Huffman, volunteer coordinator, keeps track of items sent to the disaster areas. She said that as of last week, that has included more than 500 flood buckets, about 6,000 health kits, 48 school kits, four boxes of socks, 36 tarps, 145 layettes, seven pallets of institutional-size foods, one pallet of hygiene kits, 31 blankets, a box of school supplies, two pallets of baby items and baby food, several boxes of canned goods and six industrial-size generators.

She said the center even sent a box of items for an elderly family that had lost everything and is now living in a tent.

"As soon as we can get a truck load of supplies, we make the connection in the affected area and ship the supplies directly to where they are needed," Mrs. Tripp said.

"We have volunteers coming in every day to sort out items and box them and put them on pallets. We've had hundreds of people bring stuff. And we have volunteers who come in and answer telephones."

MERCI also did a train-the-trainer event last week. Participants were from Florida, Alabama, Oklahoma and all over North Carolina. They go back to their homes and train volunteers there on how to be early response team members.

"These are teams that are specially trained to enter situations that are not set up for regular recovery teams yet," Mrs. Tripp said. "They have to be able to house and feed themselves. They carry all their own equipment.

"They go in and do the right thing instead of causing more damage or being more of a burden to a community. We want to go in to help, but there's a right way to do it.

Mrs. Tripp recently returned from a trip to Mississippi. She spent most of her time at the UMCORE conference office in Jackson, Miss., helping volunteers figure out what to do first, where to look for help and what kind of system to put into place.

She also helped volunteers there get their call center up and running.

And she also made a sweep of the Gulf Coast area to visit some sites and see the damage firsthand.

"Right around the Gulf Coast area of Mississippi from about I-90 to the coast, it's total obliteration," Mrs. Tripp said. "Absolutely everything was blown away or washed away. There are towns that just don't exist anymore.

"As you come back in about a mile or so, you've got a lot of floodwaters and major wind damage with roofs blown off and trees blown down. As far in as Jackson, which is about a three-hour drive from the coast, they were without power for a week. And there were trees down there and some areas of flooding. Without power, how do you even tell somebody where they can go get help?"

MERCI's early response teams started looking at their schedules last week before Hurricane Rita hit to see when they would be able to go down to the areas affected by that hurricane.

"We're going to need even more response teams because now we'll have four states to cover." Mrs. Tripp said.

How can Wayne County people help?

They can continue to donate supplies to these people such as canned and ready-to-eat foods, hygiene items, cleaning supplies, dust masks, gloves, trash bags, insect repellent, air fresheners, hand towels and washcloths, cloth diapers, infant clothing and school supplies.

Monetary donations are also welcome.

The center could also use truck drivers to donate their time and a truck to drive supplies to the affected areas.

Volunteers are needed at the center to unpack donated supplies and put them into the proper kits and onto pallets.

Anyone interested in helping is asked to call to be scheduled. The toll-free number is 1-888-440-9167 or 739-9167 locally.