Red Cross remembers Florida

Katie Alberti

At the beginning of the semester, Hurricane Katrina ripped through the south, killing thousands and leaving residents devastated without food, water or shelter.

Roughly a month ago, hurricanes Rita and Wilma brought destruction to the south, leaving residents once again desperate for help.

Despite the national attention Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have received, Florida has been hit by all three hurricanes and has been waiting for the Red Cross’s help.

Ida Hamilton, a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Portage County, recently left her home to help residents in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The day after she finished her last day of work at Geauga Lake for the year, the Red Cross called her to ask if she would go down south to help with the national relief effort.

“When they said go to Florida, I said ‘Why?’ and now that I’m here, I’m like ‘Oh my gosh,'” Hamilton said.

The need for help is huge because Florida has seen an influx of people forced to evacuate their homes in other states, she said.

It also has numerous hurricanes plow through the state almost every year.

“Florida gets hit with hurricanes all of the time,” Hamilton said. “This has been forgotten because of Katrina. Most of it is retirement communities and elderly, and there just isn’t enough help.”

Despite the need for relief, Hamilton said most Florida residents she has seen understand the situation.

“The residents are very aware of the total devastation everywhere,” she said. “To be honest, I think they’re being very patient.”

Regardless of their understanding, they still want help.

“They’re aggravated that no one has helped them,” Hamilton said. “Now they are appreciative. I was called an angel 500 times today.”

After the hurricanes tore through the south, the Red Cross has done everything in its power to help those in need.

Since that time, the organization has received $1.52 billion from gifts and pledges to support those who need food, shelter, emergency financial assistance and physical and mental health services, said Jackie Zavodney, communications specialist for the Red Cross of Summit County.

Although the organization has been able to help millions of people, Zavodney said more than $2 billion will be needed to help those affected by the storms.

Even though the organization’s predictions are high, the Summit County chapter has already raised more than $2 million, said Jenny Hanzel of public relations for the Red Cross of Summit County.

“The need right now is case work to get these people financial assistance so they can start up their lives again,” Hanzel said. “About $2.2 million was raised in Summit County for Katrina Relief as a result of donations and local fundraisers.”

In addition, Florida residents have been eagerly trying to return to their normal lives.

“Everyone is trying to find shelter and make themselves self-sufficient,” Hamilton said. “There is lots of job loss and these people are trying to get their normalcy back.”

In agreement with Hanzel, Hamilton said getting these people financially stable again is a very important part of the relief effort.

Through client assistance cards, vouchers, checks and cash, Zavodney said the Red Cross will distribute financial assistance to approximately 1.2 million families or more than 3.7 million hurricane survivors.

Although the demand is great, students and faculty are encouraged to make monetary contributions or volunteer their time down south, Zavodney said.

“Financial assistance is the best way to help these victims,” she said. “We are estimating $1.56 billion needed to help all the victims of the 2005 hurricane season.”

In addition, it still isn’t too late for those interested to go down south before spring semester begins.

“If people wanted to help over Christmas, they can,” Hamilton said. “These people still need help. It would be a life-changing experience for students.”

For more information on donating and volunteering for the Red Cross, visit its Web site at

Contact social service reporter Katie Alberti at [email protected].