Volunteers Flood Tornado Disaster Area

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Red Cross volunteers in Monson, Thursday (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Red Cross volunteers in Monson, Thursday (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

At the Pioneer Valley Red Cross headquarters there’s a steady stream of people walking in offering to help.  Melanie McDonough, from the Red Cross, came up from its office in North Carolina to help coordinate the press.

The Red Cross has been inundated with volunteers from Massachusetts and neighboring states — so much so that Monday they asked people to stop coming and give organizers a few days to catch up.

"The outpouring of the community has just been amazing. I know that there have been a lot of spontaneous volunteers to the local Red Cross chapters in this area," McDonough said.

One volunteer is Bridget Moriarty, who lives in Monson. Her home isn't damaged, so she’s offering to do whatever the Red Cross needs.

"Friends of mine, their houses are gone, you know, or potentially could be gone. Where I went, the elementary school is going to be torn down, so it’s just sad, so you want to do whatever you can do to help out," Moriarty said.

Moriarty and other volunteers first have to be trained. Then, they might be assigned to serve food, distribute tarps or check in people at shelters. Skilled volunteers are especially needed, and that’s why Red Cross officials are excited to see Kristen Dagenais.

"I’m just showing up to volunteer if I can. I’m licensed in Connecticut, so I don't know if I can do anything out-of-state," Dagenais said.

Dagenais is a nurse. She has never volunteered before, but she's driven 45 minutes from her home in Connecticut to help now.

"I have friends in Springfield, on Island Pond Road, so they were pretty devastated and I want to help," she said.

Island Pond Road is a modest residential street in Springfield that got hit hard. More than two dozen homes are severely damaged. One has its side ripped off, exposing the upstairs bedroom with the bed still made.

Red Cross volunteer Tim Fitch came from Connecticut to run the volunteer operation in Springfield. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)
Red Cross volunteer Tim Fitch came from Connecticut to run the volunteer operation in Springfield. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

Some of the residents of Island Pond Road had been sheltered at the high school, but classes resumed Monday so they are now living at the MassMutual Convention Center in downtown Springfield. Red Cross volunteer Tim Fitch has come up from Connecticut to run the operation here.

"Any time we go to resource and staff an operation that’s this big we try to draw from the surrounding areas, not just from Massachusetts. So they’ve done a good job, but this is a pretty big operation for us," Fitch said.

The Red Cross has more then 200 volunteers for this effort. Other charities are also coordinating volunteers and donations. The United Way is setting up a center in Springfield that will match volunteers with needs. They expect to keep the center running for several months. The Salvation Army has volunteers handing out food and water and has been overwhelmed with requests to help.

Fitch said the organizations all work together. He said he's constantly reminded of why he left the comfort of his retirement and his home to help out.

"Although this at times can be very trying, these people have had their lives upended, and it’s even hard to talk about it without getting emotional. But at times you start feeling sorry for yourself because you got long days, but these people are going through a whole lot more than I’m going through," he said.

The Red Cross said the shelter in Springfield will stay open until everyone has found housing.

Tornado Coverage:

This program aired on June 7, 2011.


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