Red Cross thanks Katrina volunteers

Volunteers shared their experiences and what they learned in the disaster areas.
Monday, November 7, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:08 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

As a storm raged outside the Columbia Expo Center and the lights flickered inside, Red Cross volunteers had to laugh at the familiar situation.

The setting was fitting for the Saturday evening event in which the Red Cross recognized its hurricane volunteers.

Boone County has deployed 23 volunteers to Hurricane Katrina’s disaster areas; seven are currently in the field.

Three volunteers shared their stories and photos, providing an overview of the volunteer experience.

Ron Sergent recently retired from Jefferson Junior High School, where he taught eighth-grade social studies for more than 20 years. He was one of many first-time volunteers who learned the meaning of “battlefield promotions.”

Sergent started working in Homa, La., as an emergency relief vehicle driver. In a matter of hours, he became a vehicle coordinator, then the site supervisor. Finally, he was sent to the headquarters in Homa as a district food coordinator. There, he managed seven emergency relief vehicles and the distribution of 250,000 snacks, 200,000 bottles of water and 150,000 meals over 15 days of service.

“The Red Cross is the first on the scene to give people what they desperately need,” Sergent said. “It was the hardest work I’ve ever done.”

Another volunteer stepped off a plane from Baton Rouge, La., the day of the recognition ceremony. Dale Beasley spent 15 days in a shelter coordinating food and water shipments — missing his 50th wedding anniversary in the process. He and his wife, Laura, have volunteered with the Red Cross for two years.

Beasley spoke of difficulties stocking and storing enough food to feed the 4,800 people in his shelter. Tears came to his eyes as his described two truckers who made an emergency drive nonstop to and from Denver to stock food.

“They arrived with food that had to be used that night,” Beasley said. “Some things couldn’t happen but for the grace of God.”

Beasley recalled the gratitude of one evacuee who stopped him in Wal-Mart and asked, “Sir, may I hug you? God bless you, and God bless the Red Cross.”

Dale Huffington, a retired MU administrator and the current chairman of the board of directors for Boone County’s Red Cross chapter, said he volunteers as a way to say thank you for the good fortune in his own life.

“Red Cross is something to believe in,” he said.

Huffington was able to help feed a young woman and her two children, who were sleeping on cots in a neighbor’s yard after their home had been destroyed.

“We live very comfortable lives, but it all could be gone just as quickly,” he said.

Jutta Hopkins, the Boone County chapter’s executive director, focused on the chapter and the service that continues close to home. She said the Boone County chapter has helped 500 evacuees start the journey to recovery and has collected $350,000 to donate to the relief effort.

Eight of Boone County’s 23 hurricane volunteers were present at the Saturday night event.

“They give three weeks of their lives and come back to business as usual,” Hopkins said. “Tonight was about thanking them.”

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