Hundreds of volunteers helping flood victims

Friday, May 6, 2011
Red Cross volunteer Ruth Wilcox of Saxe, Va. shows Henry Davis of Cairo, Ill. a hand trick Thursday at the Shawnee Community College shelter in Ullin, Ill. (Laura Simon)

ULLIN, Ill. -- It doesn't matter what the need is, Jim and Sheila Ulbrich, a St. Louis couple managing an American Red Cross shelter in Ullin, will give their all to follow through and meet it.

With more than 120 people still staying at the Southern Illinois shelter this week, there have been many requests, Jim Ulbrich said Thursday.

"People came here with nothing. One guy came to me recently and needed underwear. He'd worn the same pair for days," he said. "When we put a call out for in-kind donations, those are the things we ask for."

Volunteers like the Ulbrichs have been working around the clock, switching shifts every 12 hours, to help flood victims piling into shelters spread across Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. They're a dedicated bunch, a lot of them traveling from outside the area. At the Ullin shelter, volunteers traveled from Texas, Virginia and Colorado to help families in need. Nearly 300 volunteers are donating their time at shelters spread throughout the Southeast Missouri Red Cross's 11-county coverage area.

Suzanna Jordan didn't drive near as far -- she's from Grand Chain, Ill. -- to help at the shelter in the Shawnee Community College gymnasium. Jordan has been volunteering with the Red Cross during disasters for six years.

Henry Davis speaks Thursday with Red Cross volunteer Dorothy Pace inside the shelter at Shawnee Community College in Ullin, Ill. Davis, a Cairo, Ill. resident, has been at the shelter for eight days. (Laura Simon)

"What I liked to make sure I'm doing is meeting the needs of every individual," said Jordan, who typically volunteers each day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., sometimes longer. "This all breaks my heart. Shelters are just a home away from home, but it's not really a home."

May Cuellar, a Red Cross volunteer for more than 15 years, has been keeping up with administrative duties at the Cape Girardeau headquarters. She said she hears firsthand some of the flood victims' needs. "The people I've spoken with need a place to go. They need gas money and clothing," Cuellar said.

She's preparing Red Cross for the next step, which involves getting paperwork ready for volunteers who will soon begin doing disaster assessments at the homes of victims.

"We'll help them with their next step," said Cuellar, who's been in the Cape Girardeau office since a storm of strong-line winds, hail and rain hit the area in April. "I do it because it needs to be done. That's what a community does when people need you."

Back in Ullin, Jim Ulbrich said things have been working well at the shelter, which has on hand nurses and two mental health workers.

"They need to be talking. That's one of the things we want to do is try to get the edge off," Ulbrich said.

Henry Davis, a 52-year-old from Cairo, Ill., started sleeping at the Ullin shelter about a week ago when there was uncertainly about whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would breach a floodway in Mississippi County, Mo. Staying at the shelter and receiving some assistance from the Red Cross has eased some of the pressure, Davis said, although he said Thursday he's eager to return home.

Cairo "really, it's still livable," he said. "I believe I'll go right away."

Michelle Young, sitting with her three grandchildren at Shawnee Community College on Thursday, was just as eager to find out when she'd be able to return to her Cairo residence. She'd arrived at the shelter Saturday, and her daughter and young grandchildren arrived Tuesday. Still, Young said she felt lucky to be dry and to have shelter. The cosmetology students, she added, were even offering to give haircuts to flood victims for free.

"Their mom is over there now getting her hair done," Young said. " I appreciate everything. They've been serving the same food, but I've been telling everyone at least we have shelter."

Young hoped they'd be able to pack their things -- clothing mostly -- and return to Cairo this weekend.

Authorities in Cairo, though, weren't sure Thursday when residents would be able to return to the city, which was evacuated over the weekend. Alexander County Sheriff Tim Brown said the decision would be left up to the mayor, who continued Thursday to keep an evacuation order in place.

Sheltering pets

Anita Brandon of Jackson knows that people aren't the only ones affected by area flooding -- their pets are, too. Brandon, with the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, is helping to run an emergency animal shelter at Arena Park in Cape Girardeau. Brandon said Thursday she started to see a few owners pick up their animals but 25 dogs and nine cats were still being housed at the shelter.

"I've seen on the news where they're chained up in floodwaters. I saw that in Poplar Bluff. That makes you go 'whatever I need to do, I'll do,'" Brandon said. "It's been quite challenging and fun."

She said more volunteers because the shelter may close May 14 or 15. The date is tentative, however, pending weather and levee conditions.

"Our schedule next week is very, very sketchy. But eventually we'll need a crew to help break down," Brandon said.

Volunteering opportunities are also available with Love INC, a local organization that's been helping flood victims, according to director Eva Hillis. The organization handles a variety of requests from families in need.


Pertinent address:

Ullin, IL

Cape Girardeau, MO

Cairo, IL

Olive Branch, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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