Red Cross volunteers still assisting Jackson residents

Friday, May 16, 2003

Jim Probst has delivered meals for the last 10 days to residents in the windtorn neighborhoods of Jackson since the tornado struck May 6.

He drives the American Red Cross' emergency relief vehicle up and down hilly streets still littered with small branches, bits of insulation and roof tiles.

"You want a sandwich, bud?" Probst says over a loudspeaker to a man clearing debris from his driveway.

"I think we've about sandwiched them out," he said when the man smiled and gave a shake of his head to say no.

It's a question he repeats in various forms, announcing the Red Cross is delivering free lunches to anyone who wants one. The thankful range from construction workers and senior citizens to a small boy sucking on a pacifier as he reachs up for a bag of chips and a cookie.

Since the tornado struck, more than 1,000 hours of volunteer work have been logged, said city engineer Dan Triller, who coordinated the effort to clear streets of debris. The surge of benevolence resulted in one of the quickest and most remarkable recovery efforts seen by those coordinating the disaster relief.

Triller took on the job of organizing the 300 or so spontaneous volunteers, many of whom were given tedious jobs like picking up nails, glass and wood scattered across the streets.

"I had some people who spent four or five hours bagging trash all day long and not a complaint out of them," he said.

Some arrived in groups, such as the Southeast Missouri State University football team, a squad of Jackson High School wrestlers and an Amish church from Illinois. In addition, 10 prison inmates from the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., helped clear Litz Park. Many area businesses and local governments donated the use of expensive construction equipment, too.

Doing it for BillieProbst joined the Red Cross in 1993 and he gives credit to his wife of 35 years, Billie, for his efforts in the organization. He's a Army veteran who spent more than three decades serving his country. But when he retired, he gave Billie the choice of what they'd do with their golden years.

"She does what she does because she loves people," he said. "I do what I do because I love Billie. She supported me in what I did for so long, and it's her turn now."With most of the tornado's victims well on their way to recovery, the Red Cross is seeing a decreased demand for its services, local coordinator Mary Burton said. The members will pack up this weekend and return to their Cape Girardeau offices.

Burton is hopeful that many of those who simply showed up to help will consider joining officially, but she knows most are only interested when there's actual relief work to be done.

"Volunteers take a whole lot of nurturing," she said. "The way to retain them is to keep them involved. The biggest challenge we have is to keep them interested during the down times."

Today is the last planned day for meal delivery, and fewer and fewer people are answering Probst's hawking of free sandwiches.

He admits it's difficult to stay motivated when fewer people need his help, he said.

"Right now, I know my part of the job is done and I'm feeling every bit of my 69 years," he said. "I'm ready to go home and mow the grass."

335-6611, extension 160

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