First Person: Helping Through the Red Cross

As Hurricane Irma began to make its way towards Georgia, the Red Cross sent out an appeal for volunteers to assist with the evacuees our city would be hosting. Two of the people who responded were Gail and Robbie Jarrell, longtime members of Holy Comforter. Here’s their story, by Gail.
Robbie and I worked as volunteers through the Red Cross at the shelter set up at Patriots Park for evacuees from the path of Irma. A littlebackground info – after Katrina, we traveled with a group from Holy Comforter to New Orleans to help “muck-out” houses in May of 2006, eight months after Katrina hit. We saw first-hand how the recovery process is a very long, difficult one for those that lost all of their belongings. We also saw how important it was for those people to get back “home” or to whatever was left of it. They desperately wanted to return to a daily routine – a “normal” life that so many of us take for granted. When we had the opportunity to help out with this disaster, we took it.

Robbie and I received a brief training through Columbia County Emergency Management and the Red Cross last Friday. We were selected to work on Tuesday from 8 AM to 2 PM at the Patriots Park shelter.

I was assigned to the dining area. Robbie assisted folks as they prepared to return home and, since they were closing some of the shelters in Richmond County, he assisted with getting them settled at Patriots Park.

I was able to greet clients as they made their sleepy way to the dining area. We offered them cereal, doughnuts, yogurt and a hot cup of coffee which they all insisted needed to be strong. As is usual, folks begin to share stories over their cup of coffee.

There was a family of 19 adults and children that had made their way up from Naples, Florida. Instead of sitting down to eat, they just wanted to get on the road and get as close to home as possible. They had heard, of course, that their area had been one of the hardest hit areas, so they had no idea what they would return to find. We packed food for the road and wished the best for them as they traveled back to an unknown future.

Then there was a 92 year old gentleman that lived just outside of Jacksonville. He said he was told he had to leave, so he gathered a few items and beloved dog of 10 years and got in the car and started driving north. A deputy found him at a gas station and brought him and his dog to Patriots Park. There are strict rules about pets not being allowed in the dormitory space at any of the shelters; however, the volunteers found a nice, comfortable place for his dog too. When Robbie and I arrived on Tuesday, he was very anxious to go home. He kept insisting that he just needed someone to point him in the right direction and he would make it home just fine. So, reluctantly, we packed some food for him and his dog, and a deputy took him back to his car and pointed him toward home.

There was a couple that had gone to Miami for work on a construction site. After working two days, they were told they had to evacuate for Irma. They drove to Daytona Beach, where they were told they couldn’t stay because they had to evacuate. So next they went to Jacksonville, then to Savannah with the same message in each city. They decided they just needed to head inland and ended up in Grovetown with just the clothes they had packed.

As you can imagine, every evacuee had a story. And each one waited anxiously for word that they could return home. As each of them left, they were very grateful for the meals and a place to stay. It was interesting how they seemed to form a bond with each other as they prepared to leave. Several families decided to follow each other as far as they could.

God blessed Robbie and me with the opportunity to provide at least a little comfort for a short time for those that are struggling with so much uncertainty. We were also blessed to see how folks will come together and care for each other during difficult times. During these past days of so much strife and division, we could see that there are so many people that really do care and want the best for those that may be struggling.

Now we pray. We pray that folks have safe travels as they journey “home”. We pray that when they get there, if they are faced with the task of rebuilding their property or their lives, that the journey will be a short one. And we pray that we can continue to work in the direction that God points us and that we can continue to be some comfort to those that may be facing hardship. And we thank God for all of his wonderful blessings that we receive each and every day. Especially the blessing of routine and a sense of “normal”.

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