Red Cross volunteers needed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / August 2, 2000

LAPLACE – The American Red Cross is famous for helping out communities during fires, storms, floods and other disasters. The Red Cross in the RiverParishes , especially St. John Parish, is now asking for help from thecommunity.

“We are basically starting from scratch,” said Robyn Zeringue, disaster specialist for the River Region of the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Zeringue, who took her post in March, has been trying to get a core of volunteers together to help out in case of disasters. When Zeringue startedher job she was given a list of Red Cross volunteers that was a bit out-dated.

“Most of the people on the list have either moved, are dead, or else too old to do disaster work,” said Zeringue. “Right now we have no disaster reactionteams in St. John Parish.”Zeringue is running a campaign to recruit volunteers in St. John Parish whowould be willing to be trained in disaster response. At the present time she isworking with 10 volunteers out of St. Charles Parish who actually respond todisasters in St. John Parish.”Ideally, we are looking for enough volunteers to man four Disaster Action Teams of 10 volunteers each,” said Zeringue.

These DAT teams would be trained in first-aid, CPR, damage assessment and mass care. Volunteers would learn how to feed and house large groups ofpeople and also be shelter managers. The Red Cross would provide all trainingfor free.

“The volunteers are not obligated to respond every time there is a disaster,” said Zeringue. “But at lease we will have a core of trained people who will beable to respond.”There is no age limit for the volunteers. In fact, Zeringue has a core of youthvolunteers in St. Charles Parish. Last week Zeringue got Boy Scouts fromTroops 172 and 317 in LaPlace to clean cots at the Red Cross office on West Fifth Street.

However, cleaning cots is only a small part of what is needed from the community.

“Our goal is to get the community trained to respond during an emergency,” said Zeringue.

In this part of the country disasters come in several shapes and sizes. Weare subject to hurricanes, flooding and tornadoes. But according to KayWilkins, director of Emergency Services for the Southeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross, the most common disaster the Red Cross responds to is fire.

“Fires are the biggest threat around here,” said Wilkins. “We help victims offire with trying to find shelter, food, clothing, school uniforms and even counseling after the fire.”There are not enough volunteers to help out fire victims in St. John Parish.Zeringue said, “Right now, I am the one who gets called at 3 a.m. when thereis a fire.”As for hurricanes, the Red Cross and the St. John Parish Department ofPublic Safety are working hand-in-hand to help out St. John Parish citizens.Last week St. John Parish Director of Public Safety Bertram Madere andZeringue did an assessment of hurricane shelters in the parish. In case ofhurricanes of Categories 1 and 2, the parish would provide shelters in local churches and schools and the Red Cross would help run them.

However, in slow-moving Category 3 storms and hurricanes of Category 4 and 5, the Red Cross said it will not provide shelters to the south of Interstate 10. This means evacuation is the only alternative in high-categoryhurricanes.

To help with this, the St. John Parish Department of Public Safety and theRed Cross are asking for volunteers who would be able to identify citizens of the parish who would need extra help in evacuation in case of a powerful hurricane.

Madere said, “We are appealing for volunteers who could tell us about elderly people who don’t have cars or family members that can help them. “Madere said the parish will provide the transportation for these people to hopefully be taken north to other Red Cross shelters.

“We just need a large core of people brought together,” said Zeringue. “Evenif it is just answering phones or comforting people during a storm, we can use you.”Zeringue is also looking for people who could volunteer time at the American Red Cross office in LaPlace to handle the phones and do some paperwork.

She does have a receptionist that divides her time between St. Charles andSt. John Parish offices. As a result, the St. John Parish Red Cross is onlymanned three days a week. Zeringue wants to make sure that the Red Crossis available all the time in St. John Parish.Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer for the Red Cross and being a member of a Disaster Action Team is urged to call Zeringue at 504-785- 0647.

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