Nashville, TN -- Among the first to arrive and the last to leave disasters, volunteer and church agencies will be helping Tennesseans hammered by violent May storms long after most emergency responders have gone home.
"Long-term recovery takes time and commitment," said Ken Skalitzky, volunteer agency coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Tennessee.
"State and federal disaster recovery agencies will soon complete most of their work," he said, "but in a state that prides itself in the title, volunteers will still be here. They closed ranks from the very beginning, and will be delivering vital services to storm-stricken Tennesseans as long as necessary." As of early June, 73 of the 95 counties in Tennessee had been declared federal disaster areas and 17 fatalities were recorded.
West Tennessee residents requesting continued volunteer help should call a special toll-free line in Jackson that has been established by the United Way of West Tennessee:
877-354-3305 (87RELIEF05). That number will remain active for the foreseeable future; afterward, area residents may call 731-422-1816. Those in other parts of the state may call the Nashville United Way at 615-255-8501, the Knoxville United Way at 865-523-9131, and the Chattanooga United Way at 423-265-8000. Other communities also have independent United Way organizations. These agencies will direct callers to the appropriate source for assistance.
Volunteer officials said the agencies will continue to offer shelter, food and personal items. Some volunteer groups are helping with tree removal and debris cleanup tasks. Numerous church groups as well as the larger, more familiar agencies such as the American Red Cross have been involved.
An unusual example of the volunteer spirit that reached across the miles was the city-to-city effort initiated by the city of Jackson, New Jersey to help Jackson, Tennessee. The New Jersey volunteers sent teams to help with the cleanup effort and brought a truckload of donated personal items to help the Tennesseans get back on their feet.
To date, volunteer efforts throughout Tennessee have included:
- Preparing and serving a total of more than 230,000 meals and snacks to displaced storm survivors.
- The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) provided mobile showers and laundry facilities, and sent 45 chain saw crews from nine states at the peak of the immediate response. They prepared more than 135,000 hot meals in two kitchens, in addition to other assistance.
- The Salvation Army operated eight mobile canteens in the disaster areas and served more than 50,000 meals.
- The Red Cross, largest of all, reached a peak of 1,187 relief workers, and distributed the meals and snacks. They sheltered 1,811 people in 24 temporary shelters, set up an aid station, and sent 51 outreach teams to the hardest-hit areas. The outreach teams provided special care for the families of the deceased, providing mental health services for 2,926 people and other health services to 2,424 more. The Red Cross also provided a Communications Response Vehicle to bring phone lines for the operation into areas where phone service was disrupted.
Other volunteer agencies that have been active in the disaster include the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Adventist Community Services-Disaster Response, the Catholic Charities, the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Habitat for Humanity, the Mennonite Disaster Services, America's Second Harvest Food Bank, the United Way, and the United Methodist Disaster Response.