Organized response brings 'blessing

BY SUSAN KIM | OWENSBORO, KY | January 12, 2000


OWENSBORO, KY (Jan. 12, 2000) -- "It's remarkable, it's wonderful,

it's really a blessing," said 80-year-old Kay Kever.

Only nine days after a tornado ripped through her town, this lifetime

Owensboro resident wants to tell the good news about disaster

response.

"It's how we've all pitched in. This is home. We're all just like a

big family."

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Adventist Community Services

(ACS) multi-agency warehouse.

Within hours after the tornado struck, destroying or damaging more

than 1,200 homes, the city helped ACS locate a former grocery store

that had been vacant for months. ACS staff turned on the heat and the

warehouse was open for the business of supplying tornado survivors

with what they need to feed, clothe, and take care of their families.

Owensboro may never have seen a tornado but it has long known the

benefits of working cooperatively. The ACS warehouse stores supplies

that are distributed through the Lewis Lane Baptist Church. Its

serves survivors of every denomination, church goers, and non-church

goers. And its volunteers -- more than 300 showed up on Saturday --

are from every kind of church, school, and community organization.

The first five hours it was open it served 540 people.

On the first day, 150 teenagers volunteered to unload semi-trailers

full of supplies, recalled Pat Burge, ACS western Kentucky area

coordinator. "At that point we had no heat, and they were unpacking

boxes in freezing cold wind, but I did not hear one single word of

complaint."

As she organizes volunteers and manages the warehouse, Burge is also

housing seven out-of-state volunteers at her home, 25 miles away. She

said it's all in a day's work. "When my husband was alive, we had

lots of company," she said. "I kind of enjoy having a lot going on

around the house."

And there is also 'a lot going on' in the warehouse. Ideally, ACS

organizers look for 250,000 square feet of warehouse space in a

post-disaster situation. Burge has 25,000 square feet.

But it's highly organized. In a numbering system that resembles a

library, scores of volunteers unpack boxes and stack items on

shelves. The first aisle -- number 100 -- is for food. Shelf 101 for

is vegetables, 102 beans, 150 water.

Aisle 200 is cleaning supplies, aisle 300 personal care items. In the

back, forklift operators lift pallets off of truck after truck.

Volunteers of all ages -- from retired seniors to elementary school

children -- are unpacking, sorting, taking inventory.

There are even volunteers to take care of the volunteers. In one

corner of the warehouse, volunteers get donated home-cooked meals.

This system helps head off two problems disaster response experts

dread: spontaneous volunteers and inappropriate in-kind donations.

Volunteers who show up without knowing what's needed, or with no

place to stay, can be more of a burden that a blessing for a

disaster-ridden community.

But at the ACS warehouse, volunteers can sign up for specific days

and time slots at a registration table. And, soon after the disaster,

Burge tried to get the word out: "we don't need clothes."

Nevertheless, used clothing donations pile up. They always do after a

disaster, said Burge. Now they're being loaded into boxes and then

into vans, where they'll be shipped to the Salvation Army or another

agency that can handle them.

Though Owensboro is new to disaster, the state of Kentucky isn't by

any means. Response to past tornadoes and floods throughout the state

have resulted in a network of knowledgeable people who know what it

takes to respond.

Sheer experience has helped Burge expect certain challenges -- and

know what to do next. For instance, she has received an overabundance

of dog food -- and some was in ripped bags. "But we had volunteer

repackage it, and we already have an agreement to donate any extra to

the Humane Society," she said.

Someone also donated a bulk quantity of individually packed cereals

-- with expired milk. "We had to throw away the milk, but volunteers

unwrapped every single package and saved the individually-wrapped

cereals," she said.

But mostly donor hearts are in the right place, she added. "We've

gotten personally written cards from people inside the boxes."

Potential materal donors can find out what items are most needed by

checking with those organizing relief warehouses. In Owensboro, as in

other post-disaster sites, response leaders encourage cash donations

over in-kind goods, so that the items purchased will meet survivors'

needs at any given time.

Nine days after the tornado, for example, Owensboro is still cleaning

up tree limbs and debris. "We need wheelbarrows, shovels, rakes,

hammers, building supplies," said Burge.

As the city makes progress in its recovery, survivors' needs will

change. The visible mess will recede, but survivors will still be

left with many challenges of everyday living they didn't have before

the disaster.

Volunteers at the warehouse want to be ready, and the place looks

like a beehive, with volunteers in every aisle unpacking boxes of

food, toothbrushes, toys, baby food, aspirin.

Volunteer Yvonne Triplett unpacked a box full of teddy bears on her

first day at the warehouse. "I like helping people and showing them I

care," she said. "Because once I was homeless and somebody helped me."

Posted Jan. 12, 2000


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