Saturday, March 8, 1997
Offers of help pouring in
Money is the main need, workers stress

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Offers to donate supplies and services to flood victims are pouring in from across America, and emergency workers are trying to bring those efforts together and avoid their own man-made disaster.

Mindful of events that followed hurricanes Andrew and Hugo - when massive amounts of donated food and clothing were either unneeded, sent to landfills or dispatched to the wrong areas - local emergency workers are already pleading for cash-only donations.

They're also urging that those wishing to volunteer or donate align themselves with a specific relief organization, to ensure that the goods or services get to the right place and are used in the right way.

''We want to make sure the Catholics know what the Mennonites are doing and the Red Cross knows what the Methodists and Lutherans are doing,'' said Marwood Hallett, secretary of the Ohio Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster. ''It's ordinary and it isn't splashy, but this kind of work can prevent a disaster after the disaster.''

Ohio's emergency center had set up a toll-free donations hot line (1-888-FLOOD-OH) for people offering services, goods and money. More than 200 calls were logged by Friday.

The Friends Church from the Canton, Ohio, area wants to send a crew to clean out homes. The Hoover Co. in Canton will donate 15 vacuums to suck up water. Students at Wyandot Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, want to donate books.

A Wal-Mart in Atlantic City, N.J., was collecting donations in conjunction with Showboat Casinos. Mark Johnston, manager of the Wal-Mart and a former Kentucky resident, said he was making arrangements with a relief organization near Falmouth to receive the goods.

Anthony Pignanelli, an employee of Showboat, said he had called the American Red Cross in Cincinnati, but had been told they would accept only cash. He decided to help collect clothes, cleaning supplies and non-perishable foods anyway.

''Some people can't afford to give cash,'' he said. ''I can give them two bags of clothes right now.''

Michele Bayer, a public information officer with the American Red Cross, said her organization refers all callers who want to donate anything other than cash to the St. Vincent DePaul Society of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

''People get angry when you tell them they can't donate,'' she said. ''It's like telling them they can't help.''

Tim Heile, executive director of St. Vincent DePaul, said he has a warehouse and several tractor-trailer rigs in which to store donations. He said he ships the supplies as quickly as possible to flood sites, calling the sites every three hours to see what is needed.

Most in demand now: cleaning supplies, disinfectants, personal hygiene items, baby needs, non-perishable food and snow shovels to clean the silt from flooded basements.

Mr. Heile said the best way to avoid the aid problems that occurred after the disastrous hurricanes is to inform people what is and is not needed. ''We refine and regulate what is coming in by virtue of the media,'' he said.

Mr. Hallett's organization, the Ohio Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), is another group trying to avoid such problems. A longtime social service volunteer with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Mr. Hallett helped create VOAD's Ohio chapter three years ago.

VOAD first organized in the Southeast after the chaotic relief efforts following the hurricanes. Thirty-nine states have similar organizations.

This is Ohio's first attempt to organize and channel the kindness and good intentions of individuals, churches, community groups and companies offering money and manpower following a disaster.

Kentucky is also working for coordinated relief efforts. Officials at the Division of Disaster and Emergency Services hoped to have a hot line set up by Sunday or Monday.

They're telling callers, companies, churches and others to align themselves with specific relief organizations or donate cash.

''We are absolutely, positively without fail, not asking for clothing at this time,'' said Dave Boyer, donations officer for the state agency.

Ms. Bayer said the Red Cross needs money.

''It's going to get really expensive for us in the next two weeks,'' she said. ''What's expensive is when these people are able to get back in their homes, and we help them rebuild.''

Richard Cheek, chief of operations for the North Carolina Emergency Management Agency, who was brought in this week by the state of Ohio to help with relief efforts, said his agency discovered Hurricane Hugo victims preferred using Red Cross vouchers to buy clothes.

''Disaster victims already have lost enough dignity,'' he said. ''They don't want to sort through a pile of clothes dumped in some gymnasium.''