Volunteer to Help Incoming Hurricane Refugees

Another email to RET, from yesterday. Please take it to heart and help if you can, even if you’re not associated with RET. Also, I’ve set up a wiki to house what information I can cobble together about local relief efforts. If you know of other information or if you need other information, please let me know or post on the wiki.

I learned today from an RET member of an informational meeting about local efforts to help provide relief for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Some people have already migrated to the Knoxville area, and 750 are being bused in on Tuesday. About 1,500 total are expected. The meeting, organized by a local group called the Compassion Coalition in conjunction with the Knoxville chapter of the American Red Cross, centered on organizing volunteers.

The coliseum and several churches will be providing space for shelters, but administrators have estimated their staffing needs to include a workforce of 540 volunteers working 6-hour shifts every third day. That’s a lot of people, and that’s a huge commitment. Let’s think of it in terms of RET’s membership. If our group of 60ish people could find three volunteers, they could each expect to spend roughly one business day (or night) a week staffing a shelter. Realistically, it’d probably become a bigger commitment than that.

For as small a portion of the workforce as we could provide, I imagine it’d be an administrative speedbump for the coalition and the Red Cross to have to coordinate with us. Accordingly, I’ve contacted Rev. Buice at the TVUUC to see if his church is getting involved and to see if we (and perhaps the other area UU churches) could lump our resources together to provide a group of volunteers that could be more reasonably managed. I’m also attending a meeting tonight at which I hope I can gain some traction within this coalition.

Yesterday, I asked you for money, knowing full well that many of us are unable to donate substantial money to this cause. Today, I ask you for time, hoping that more of us can spend a few hours a week chipping in. I was trying to work out on the way home from the meeting today how I could fit this into my schedule. RET already suffers because I don’t dedicate sufficient time to executing its business. The list of things I need to fix around the house is getting longer and longer, and I’ll be out of town for a week at the end of the month. And of course I already feel as if I don’t see enough of my daughter. But my daughter’s safe. And I type this from a comfortable chair in my air-conditioned home after having spent the morning at a stimulating discussion among friends. There are 1.5 million people displaced by the hurricane who can now only dream of such things. Surely I can spend 4 – 6 hours a day or two a week for a few weeks to help give some of these people a home and meals to eat. Surely I can try to find a way to make it work.

From 6:00 – 9:00 tomorrow night at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church (on the corner of Kingston Pike and Cedar Bluff), there’s a training meeting. All volunteer staffers have to go through this training. There will be other sessions in the coming weeks, so if you’re interested in helping but can’t make this session, don’t worry. If you’re interested in possibly helping out, please let me know, and try to give me an idea of what kind of time you think you can devote to helping. I’ll provide more details as I get them to those who express an interest.

It’s frustrating to me that RET wasn’t on the list of groups invited to today’s meeting, that the secular weren’t considered a resource for helping those in need. The Compassion Coalition is composed of people who emphasize a belief in Christ, so understandably we’re not included. We need to look past differences in religious beliefs to help these people in need, though, and I’d like to be able to say proudly that our little group produced a wellspring of volunteers. Please give serious thought to helping out. Thanks for your continued attention on this matter.

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