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South Whidbey residents help Katrina victims

Hurricane Katrina’s path of devastation and suffering across the Gulf Coast has inspired many Whidbey Islanders to step up and ease the suffering of disaster survivors.

South Whidbey residents are reaching into their wallets and offering to volunteer to help the thousands of victims hurt by the worst natural disaster in this county’s history.

The Island County Chapter of the American Red Cross was open all weekend with its staff of two fielding phone calls, e-mails and walk-ins from local residents wanting to help.

A steady stream of people have visited or called the Red Cross in Oak Harbor.

Parishioners also gave from their hearts during Sunday’s church services, and a local woman will provide much-needed counseling services to emergency responders who are helping the victims and to the victims themselves.

Barbara Johnson, executive director of the Red Cross in Oak Harbor, said her office was open all weekend from about 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day.

Johnson said the total amount of money donated so far to the local office is expected to be tallied later this week.

She said people are calling and just coming into the office.

“They want to help. As the situation changes in the region, so is the nature of the calls,” Johnson said.

Although some people are offering items such as clothing, blankets and other household items, the Red Cross is not set up at this time to handle material donations.

“It’s just too expensive to get the items to the site,” Johnson said.

Working with many partner agencies, the Red Cross provides shelter, food and safe drinking water, as well as emotional and medical support for those affected by the storm.

Johnson said about 40 Island County residents have volunteered their services to help evacuees being sent to Washington state.

Two-hundred evacuees are expected to arrive Thursday at McCord Air Force Base near Tacoma, the first of up to 2,000 hurricane survivors that Washington state will be welcoming.

The effort, called “Operation Evergreen,” will send evacuees to the military base to be evaluated for immediate medical care. The evacuees will then be transfered to temporary housing at Fort Lewis for two to four weeks.

“With many Island County Residents wanting to volunteer, we will be setting up orientation and training sessions at the chapter office in the near future,” Johnson said.

People wanting to volunteer will be required to undergo a Red Cross orientation class and training to learn exactly what is required to work in shelters.

Rachel Taber-Hamilton, a priest on the staff of St. Augustine’s-in-the-Woods Episcopal Church in Freeland and a chaplain at Island Hospital in Anacortes, is also a board-certified healthcare chaplain trained in “critical incident response.”

It’s exactly the sort of training so desperately needed along the Gulf Coast.

On Saturday, the Red Cross called Taber-Hamilton and asked her to volunteer her services. She is going on a two-week deployment to the Gulf Coast via the Red Cross staging area in Montgomery, Ala.

From Montgomery, she will be sent to those locations where her skills in counseling and spiritual care are most needed.

“I will be in shelters where peopled are staying, providing grief and bereavement counseling and stress counseling for emergency responders,” she said.

Trinity Lutheran Church donation

A Freeland church collected over $10,000 from its members to help victims of Katrina.

During regular worship services on Sunday, parishioners attending Trinity Lutheran Church donated $12,200 to be sent to the relief effort.

The donation came in one day.

“We just passed the hat during Sunday services,” said Rev. Jim Lindus.

“We do have a desire to help in anyway we can,” he said.

There has been some talk about providing shelter for evacuees through local churches, but there are no immediate plans at this time.

While there is no immediate plan for housing evacuees, Lindus said he is talking with the national organization for his church on how best to provide assistance.

Curves for Women

Others are stepping up to help, too.

The Freeland business Curves for Women is accepting donations for the victims of the hurricane-damaged region.

Owners Gary and Diane Heavin will match donations up to $1,000. For donations under $75, checks should be written directly to “Curves,” donations over that figure should be written to “The Gary and Diane Haevin Community Fund.”

The tax deductible contributions will be accepted through Oct. 31. Curves is asking all of its franchises to participate.

Curves in Freeland is located in Harbor Mall Suite 107 at 1651 Main St.

Also on South Whidbey, a Glow Ball Golf Tournament will be held Saturday, Sept. 10 at Island Greens to raise money for the relief effort. All green-fees have been donated by Dave Anderson, owner of Island Greens.

Sign-up sheets are available at Cozy’s Road House in Clinton, or call Staci Hull at 321-4269. The per-person fee is a donation of $25 each, which will be added to funds already being raised through Whidbey Island Bank. Prizes will be drawn afterwards at Cozy’s Roadhouse. Island Greens is located on French Road in Clinton.

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