Tamica Jeuitt is the director of communications and marketing manager for the Mississippi Region American Red Cross. Jeuitt recently spoke to Sun Senior Staff Writer Anthony Warren about the region’s response to hurricanes Florence and Michael. The storms recently devastated the Carolinas and portions of Georgia and Florida.
So how is the Mississippi Region helping?
“Red Cross is working around the clock with our partners to get help to where it is the most needed. Mississippi volunteers are deploying to those communities, taking food trucks and emergency response vehicles. Many of our workers were on standby before the storms. Some were able to get to those areas before the storm and (begin) helping those communities immediately after the storms passed. We’re (also) raising money locally to support relief efforts (and) some of our regular donors are stepping up.
“When volunteers are ready to step up, those funds make it possible for them to do their jobs. One of our volunteers from Gulfport said, ‘All they gotta do is give us the money and we got the rest.’ ”
How many volunteers have gone to the impacted areas?
“Currently, we have about 20 Mississippi volunteers in those areas. Some were actually in North Carolina supporting efforts (following) Florence and were redeployed to the Florida and Georgia areas. We have other volunteers waiting for clearance to deploy.”
What kind of clearance is needed?
“First, we need to make sure they are in good health … They need to be healthy enough to lift heavy objects and live in conditions which can sometimes be harsh. That’s the main thing, making sure their health statuses are up to date. It also depends on their assignments … Our national coordinators will let us know what volunteers are needed. They may need someone riding trucks, or there may be calls for people to work in particular shelters, in health services or work as spiritual healthcare volunteers. That’s also another part of clearance. These all are trained positions.”
What have our volunteers seen on the ground?
“Before the storm passed, there were eight members of our leadership team in Tampa, Fla., for a meeting. The meeting was cancelled because the storm was coming. Many of our workers, instead of coming back, went on to Tallahassee and parts of Georgia ahead of the storm so they could help with disaster relief. For (two weeks) now, those workers have been there, and we’ve been checking in with them.
“What they’re sharing (are) stories about hotels letting people sleep on lobby floors because there’s nowhere else to go, blocks being wiped out, and Walmart and convenience stores not operating for days. I encourage people to go to our social media site to see what our volunteers are (sharing).”
How long are volunteers typically deployed?
“Volunteers usually stay about two weeks. Some more than that. We’ve had people go for a month. (After) Hurricane Harvey, some were gone for more than a month.”
Where is the farthest someone from Mississippi has been deployed?
“We’ve had people, for my knowledge, who have gone to the Virgin Islands. It depends on their line of service. We have one service to armed forces member who is actually in Kuwait right now. That’s in a volunteer position. They’re serving for a year to help military personnel, providing care and activities to keep them motivated. He comes back in early spring.”
Why do people volunteer?
“People do it because they want to help, because they’ve been victims of disasters, the Red Cross was there to help them in their time, and they (want to) find a way to give back others in need. We have people who are generous and (volunteering) makes them feel good that they’re able to bring hope to another person or community.”
What kind of disasters do volunteers respond to?
“Some home fires, tornadoes, hurricanes. Again, there have been some manmade disasters we’ve responded to, when you think about 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings.”
Does the Mississippi Region still have enough people to respond to local disasters?
“We have approximately 1,400 volunteers in Mississippi that are ready to go at a moment’s notice. They’re trained, and we work very closely with our local partners here as well to make communities are prepared in times of disaster, such as working with emergency management (officials) to make sure shelters are open. If something happens in Mississippi, we have people that can help us. We also have a huge national base, which has volunteers who are willing to fly in, drive in and get to any Mississippi community that needs us.”
Tell me a little about disaster preparedness. What does the Red Cross do in that arena?
“On our website, we have lots of information, even in multiple languages (at least 20), of preparedness messaging. We stress three things: make a kit, have a plan and be informed. Those three steps can make a huge difference in the event of a disaster. We do community presentations when we’re asked to, and we share those steps with youth and schools and at youth events.
“We also do the same thing in other lines of service, such as our services to military families (area). In the event they have a family member who has to deploy, what do (they need to) do?
“We also have the “Sound the Alarm Campaign,” where we are installing free smoke alarms in homes every week. People can call our office any day to request a free smoke alarm to be installed in their home. It’s one of my favorite programs at the Red Cross. You’re dealing with people before an emergency. It costs families nothing for (us) to be there. We also go through a fire escape program with them. It’s my favorite one, because everyone is smiling. Some little lady in Vicksburg (was) all happy that she can sleep well at night (knowing a smoke alarm was installed.)”
Do volunteers have to pay expenses out of pocket?
“They’re not paying for any expenses. The Red Cross (does), thanks to donations from the general public. No one is expected to pay for anything, other than just giving their time and commitment of at least two weeks for deployment.”
So some people spend their vacations from work doing disaster relief.
“We’ve had volunteers deployed on their birthdays or miss a special event for their own family members. There is a lot of dedication and commitment. I admire every one (of our volunteers). It doesn’t’ matter how much time they give. If they give an hour or two weeks or a month, someone needs that time and it’s greatly appreciated.”
If people are interested in volunteering or giving, what do they need to do?
“Go to redcross.org or call 1-800-Red Cross. Or, they can text the word Michael to 90999 to make a quick $10 donation. They can always text the words Red Cross to 90999 to make a donation as well.”