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As aid demand increases, Red Cross needs help to give help

POSTED: January 26, 2009 11:53 p.m.

When an early morning fire destroyed everything inside the Cleveland Highway residence Elizabeth and Francisco Gutierrez called home, the American Red Cross was there.

"They helped us with everything. That was a big relief, because we thought we were on the streets — homeless," Elizabeth Gutierrez said.

Within hours of the fire, two members of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team arrived, helping Elizabeth Gutierrez’s displaced family with hotel accommodations and money for food, gasoline and clothes.

"That was a big, huge help; I’m so glad (they) are here," Gutierrez said.

But the Northeast Georgia chapter is left looking for help itself this winter after having to help an unusual number of people in the same situation as the Gutierrez family.

In the past two months, the local chapter has spent more than $19,000 in emergency assistance — more than 54 percent of the funds budgeted for disaster relief through June 30, said Larry Tyson. He is director of emergency services for the chapter, which serves 13 counties, including Hall.

Though demand for the Red Cross’ services is up, donations are not.

"We are really, really in need of additional resources and donations," Tyson said.

The Red Cross is able to provide its services because of donations, Tyson said, but donation requests mailed out recently haven’t been met with as much fervor as in previous years.

Tyson blames the economy.

"Donations are down," he said. "The economy has really hurt a lot of our fundraising efforts."

Already this month, the local Red Cross has provided help to 80 people after fires. In Hall County alone, the organization responded to two fires this past weekend and five the weekend before, Tyson said.

Volunteers say the frequency of fires is rare — even in the cold months when fires are more likely.

On average, the disaster action team responds to two to three fires a month, said Perry Roper, team captain and 18-year Red Cross volunteer.

"What’s been happening is rare, but I mean, we’re there, and it’s just a good feeling to help," Roper said.

The Red Cross helps fire victims based on the number of people affected and the extent of loss, Tyson said. After a fire, the team provides anything from deodorant to toys, money for food and clothes and at least two nights’ stay in a hotel if needed.

"That gives people a safe place to go for that first night and the second night and hopefully gives them a chance to get with their insurance company if they have insurance or get a hold of friends or family and try to make other arrangements for their living," Tyson said.

Helping a four-member family get through the immediate aftermath of a fire costs from $400 to $1,000, Tyson said. Volunteer Tom Chapman said some of the assistance Red Cross volunteers provide is free.

"When I go on scene, the first thing I’ll do is I’ll find somebody and just give them a hug if that’s necessary — something just to let them know that there is somebody here to help them — and that goes an awfully long ways to just beginning the healing process," Chapman said.

While priceless, hugs cannot keep the organization afloat, and Tyson said the organization needs more money and volunteers.

"We wish we could do more to help people, but unfortunately, it takes more money to be able to do that," Tyson said.



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