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Kitsapers answer Hurricane Gustav’s call
American Red Cross volunteers providing aid to Gulf Coast.
Three years removed from Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast residents are again coping with the devastation of tropical storms, Hurricane Gustav being the lead culprit this time.
Gustav formed Aug. 25 in the Caribbean Sea, hitting Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Cuba before sweeping through the Gulf of Mexico en route to the United States where it made landfall Monday as a Category 2, near Cocodrie, La.
Today, seven Red Cross volunteers from Kitsap County, including East Bremerton’s Tracee Dunn, are on the Atlantic Coast helping to pick up the pieces.
For Dunn, who Thursday flew to Baton Rouge, La., the experience is a first. A recent graduate of an 11-month AmeriCorps program, Dunn will spend 18 days providing food and shelter to those who fled their homes at the hands of Gustav.
“I decided I wanted to do something different,” she said of joining AmeriCorps, “something more interactive.”
Now a volunteer with the Red Cross Youth and Young Adult Program, Dunn spends time in area classrooms teaching CPR and other first aid skills. She also helped open a shelter in Mason County for victims of last year’s winter floods.
For the next two-plus weeks her skill and training will come in handy.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Dunn, who along with her husband and 2-, 6-, 7- and 12-year-old children has lived in Kitsap County for 13 years.
Dunn also will join fellow volunteer Evelyn Schwerin, who has volunteered for Red Cross as a mental health specialist for more than 20 years.
Schwerin said offering a shoulder to lean on, or smile to share, can go a long way in helping somebody on hard times. That’s why she does what she does.
“A friendly face really helps,” Schwerin said. “Just having somebody say hi.”
As a psychological specialist, Schwerin’s duties are two-fold; she provides care not only to storm victims, but also the volunteers providing relief.
“One of the responsibilities we have at the Red Cross is to take care of our own people,” explained Dave Rasmussen, emergency services specialist. “We respond to people’s immediate shelter and feeding needs.”
Rasmussen, who belongs to the Red Cross West Sound chapter, said the ability to provide effective relief begins with high-level, intensive, hands-on training at the local level, meaning when Red Cross volunteers converge at the national level, everybody is on the same page.
“We’re all singing off the same sheet of music,” he said, using Dunn as a case and point. “She now has the opportunity to use the skills and training she has learned.”
Dunn and Schwerin are two of more than 30 volunteers from the Red Cross West Sound chapter, which includes King County, who will relieve Gustav victims. As of Thursday, seven Kitsapers flew to either Louisiana or the surrounding area.
“This is a volunteer-driven operation,” Rasmussen said. “It really does take a large number of volunteers.”
Those volunteers — and the Red Cross — need local backing because the costs associated with disaster relief are substantial. Mass feeding and shelter provisions are among the many expenses.
“The Red Cross can only do this because of the generous support of our local people,” he said. “We’re really appreciative of the support and generosity that’s given here on a local basis.”
“The community is part of our team,” Schwerin added.
Heavy rains are expected to pound the region Gustav hit, including Mississippi and Arkansas, and another Hurricane, Hanna, is swiftly moving toward the Atlantic Coast.
On Wednesday, Hanna killed 61 people in Haiti.
“We are in the peak of it,” Rasmussen said of hurricane season, beginning June 1 and generally tapering off mid-to-late fall.
For now, Dunn and Schwerin will chip in where they can and hope Mother Nature cooperates.
“You get so much more than you give when you volunteer,” Schwerin said. “It’s very satisfying.”
There are 20 Red Cross chapters in Washington state and the West Sound chapter always needs local support, Rasmussen said.
Potential volunteers are encouraged to contact the Red Cross West Sound office in Bremerton, located at 811 Pacific Ave. For more information, call (360) 377-3761.