Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 28, 2013

Community’s generosity lightens the load during relief efforts

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Disasters come with a price. Local, state and federal agencies have to pay for preparations and spend more money when floods and blizzards strike, but local generosity covers much of the financial burden when relief efforts are needed.

Local offices of emergency services are allocated funds to cover salaries, daily operations, and items such as motel rooms when disasters strike, said Tim Farley, director of the Mercer County Office of Emergency Services.

Mercer County budgets $36,546 for emergency services, said Vicky Reed, county coordinator. This pays for salaries, maintenance and repair of vehicles, materials and supplies for the office, and travel to training seminars. Another $29,609 is allocated to flood control.

Agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army provide a lot of assistance when disasters strike, Farley said.

“They have people that are trained in responding to disasters, feeding people, and assisting with shelter,” he said. “The Salvation Army also has feeding canteens, and are able to bring in volunteers and assist with feeding during any kind of disaster.”

When isolated people need food and water, mobile facilities do a lot to meet their needs, said Lt. Mike Michels of the Princeton Salvation Army.

“We have a canteen, a mobile kitchen for feeding people. We also set up our gym as a shelter when needed,” Michels said. “We can also do food distributions.”

The canteen’s worth was demonstrated during July 2012 when a severe windstorm left thousands of people without power. Local churches aided the relief effort by cooking, and local volunteer fire departments served as food distribution points. Volunteers drove the Salvation Army’s canteen to communities that had been cut off, Michels said.

“We started handing out water and food, and one lady came to us and said thank you. She said the last thing they had to drink was melted ice cream from their refrigerator,” Michels said.

Donations keep relief efforts in operation.

“We backed the disaster out of local funds and, of course, made an appeal to the area. We’re helping you with this. Can you help us with that? We have a small buffer of funds available, and I believe FEMA reimbursed some of that. We didn’t make any money. We’re completely donation supported,” Michels said.

“In Hinton, we spent about $5,000 on disaster relief,” he recalled. “We received about $4,800 of that back months later.”

The local American Red Cross also tries to have some funds and materials ready for disaster relief operations.

“I could say for the Red Cross that we prepare and travel all the time to assist when a disaster happens,” said Phyllis Sheets, disaster coordinator and office manager for the Red Cross in Mercer County. “We try to have supplies in position.”

If roads become impassible and fresh supplies cannot be brought into the area immediately, the Red Cross has reserves of military-style meals ready to eat. The Red Cross works closely with 911 centers in Mercer and McDowell counties and other locations. Sheets did not have expense figures on hand, but her agency depends on the public for financial support. Donations come from individuals and businesses.

“We’re not government funded. It’s strictly from the generosity of donations we get from the public. We constantly fund raise so when a disaster occurs, we can be there in a moment’s notice,” she said.

The Bluefield Union Mission is another local agency that helps in Mercer and McDowell counties when floods and other emergencies strike. Director Craig Hammond said the majority of what the mission distributed during winter storms and the windstorm of July 2012 was donated. The United Methodist Conference supplied truckloads of bottled water and shelf-stable food. Many churches came forward to offer assistance.

“Twenty-one area churches or houses of worship participated in the derecho,” Hammond said. “Grant’s Supermarket gave out a lot quite a few gift cards through us. Sam’s Club and Food City were also generous.”

The mission paid for some emergency shelter, and Hammond estimated that at approximately $3,000. He did not have figures available, but he said that much of the relief effort during July 2012 was covered by in-kind contributions from houses of worship and local businesses.