Offering shelter after the storm

Offering shelter after the storm Clay County Cares By David Lias A newly-formed organization in Vermillion is working to do something that state and federal officials haven't � provide a safe haven for victims of Hurricane Katrina here.

The group � Clay County Cares � hopes to receive up to five donated trailer homes in Vermillion. Needed repairs will be made, with plans to offer housing initially to at least two families who lost everything to the hurricane and flooding.

The volunteer members of the group have divided into committees responsible for addressing ways to meet the long list of needs of the families.

"The committees are looking at ways to provide what they will need," said Kristen Walker, one of the spokespersons for Clay County Cares. Those needs, she said, include housing, food, clothing, furniture, mental health and wellness counseling, social services and education.

Monday night, the group met at the Apostolic Faith Church in Vermillion to review the progress they've made so far.

"Everything that we set out to do was done," she said. "We found out everything we needed to know."

Walker said she has been in communication with officials at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette, LA, which is currently housing more than 6,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

"As of this morning (Monday), we are getting two families, with no more than five people in each family," she said.

The timing of their arrival here will depend on when transportation plans can be finalized.

"We'll also know if we're getting a single mother with three children, if we're getting two adults and one child, if we're getting two parents and three children � we'll know the specifics of that later, but it's basically left up to us to plan the transportation."

The local movement to provide shelter here in Vermillion gained momentum after Walker, a member of Apostolic Faith Church, contacted officials at the Cajun Dome to see if the Vermillion community could offer assistance.

"This has nothing to do with FEMA, nothing to do with the governor's office, nothing to do with the Red Cross," she said. "This is Clay County Cares, period � a group of people who have gotten together and are taking this on."

The organization has received a familiar "Vermillion response" as it seeks materials and services to meet the needs of the displaced families.

"Everybody from Fullerton's to Herren-Schempp Building Supply to Civic Council to the state social services office � pretty much anybody we've gone to in town has said, ?anything we can do, we will do,'" Walker said.

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Whitman said Clay County Cares has established a fund, which it hopes will grow, to help the families with living expenses.

"We've got housing for them, we've got clothing and food taken care of, but they will need some money to help pay for some things until they can get on their own," she said.

An account has been established at the Vermillion Credit Union. Canisters also have been placed at businesses throughout the community to accept donations.

The members of Clay County Cares realize that planning to meet the needs of the families can, at times, seem to be a daunting challenge.

Those challenges, the two women noted are nothing when compared to the trials facing the families in Louisiana.

"They're coming with nothing," Whitman said, "and they have to start over again."

Walker said she's been reminded of why she loves living in a small community.

"This (helping others) is something that small towns do a lot," she said. "In times of need, people come out of the woodwork."

She urges citizens to remember that these families will have special needs.

"Once these families arrive here, help them, support them," Walker said. "If they need a ride, offer it to them."

The families, besides having to cope with the fact that they've lost everything, may also feel isolated.

"We are most likely going to get minorities. They are probably going to be black families," Walker said. "They've gone through something I can't imagine.

"We need to embrace them, as fellow human beings."

Citizens interested in getting involved with Clay County Cares may contact Walker at 624-6300 or Whitman at 624-7077.

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