Archive for Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A helping hand

Area woman returns from stint as volunteer along Gulf Coast

October 12, 2005

Tonganoxie-area Red Cross volunteer Peachez Joles returned to Kansas with mixed impressions of her experiences.

On Sept. 5, Joles left Tonganoxie to head south to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Joles started her three-week stint with 10 days in Tupelo, Miss., where she worked at a 300-bed shelter. Then, she worked another 10 days at a 150-bed shelter in Molino, Fla.

Tupelo, in northeast Mississippi, was beautiful, as well as a fairly pleasant experience, Joles said.

"You talk about Southern hospitality -- it was right there in Tupelo," Joles said. "Everything was 'honey' and 'sweetheart' and 'darling.' They couldn't do enough for you. I thought it was wonderful."

But the trip was anything but a luxury trip, and during at least 12 hours a day Joles and the other volunteers worked hard. Their job -- to help hurricane evacuees.

The Tupelo shelter was in an athletic facility, which Joles referred to as the "coliseum."

"It was huge," Joles said. "Besides the bedding, we had family service offices, the medical people had an office in there, a barber shop and beauty shop were in there and they had a daycare."

Joles started out managing the daycare. But her responsibilities expanded when the Red Cross put her in charge of scheduling volunteers for the entire coliseum.

Volunteers also worked a distribution area, where evacuees could pick up clothing and toiletries, and the kitchen and dining hall. And of course, Joles said, the volunteers were in charge of cleaning the facility, which she said seemed to be a thankless task.

"The volunteers were constantly cleaning and mopping and sweeping and scrubbing," Joles said. "I only knew of one evacuee couple that would actually get up and help us. The woman was even trying to unclog a toilet that had clogged up. They were the only ones. Everybody else was just busy taking care of themselves. They were taking each others' things, they were in jeopardy of each other. Life like that is very hard."

Still, Joles said, she found it difficult to understand why the evacuees acted the way they did.

"A lot of them didn't get out of bed except to go to the bathroom and go to eat," Joles said.

And some of the volunteers, particularly those who worked in the dining area, reported being cursed at by evacuees, Joles said.

Joles, a former associate pastor at Tonganoxie United Methodist Church, said she tried to remain upbeat and to encourage other volunteers to be positive as well.

"I said, 'We're not here to judge them,'" Joles said.

During this time the volunteers worked hard, Joles said.

"We were unpaid workers, we worked 12 hours a day, it would be night when we got there and nighttime when we left," Joles said. "We were on our feet the whole time. I felt like saying, 'I'm not getting paid. At least you could be nice to me.'"

And, she said, the evacuees didn't seem to trust the volunteers.

"One lady (an evacuee) went into town to try and find a job and when she came back part of her stuff was gone," Joles said. "She blamed the Red Cross."

By the time Joles left, the population of the Florida shelter had dropped to 65, and Joles said it's likely the shelter, which was in a former elementary school, is now closed.

The experience left Joles with mixed emotions. However, when asked if she'd do it again, she flashed an immediate smile and said, "I probably would."

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