Lending a hand

A town in Illinois that was heavily damaged after a tornado outbreak Sunday is getting some help locally after volunteers offered their services.

The two volunteers with the Brushy Creek Area chapter of the American Red Cross left Fort Dodge around 11 a.m. Tuesday to help the residents of Peoria, Ill., as they continue to assess the damage from Sunday’s outbreak.

Jenny Hamman, the volunteer coordinator for the Northwest Iowa territory of the American Red Cross, said the volunteers will learn their assignments once they get to town.

“Most likely they will be out there feeding,” Hamman said. “They’ll drive somewhere like Hy-Vee and pick up food there. They’ll have orders as to what location they’ll take that food to and then they’ll feed the clients in those areas.”

She said that the Red Cross doesn’t prepare its own food, and the volunteers might stay in just one area.

“Let’s say there are shelters that have been open,” she said. “They may be told to take all that food to the shelter. They could be the ones handing out all the food with the other volunteers who are there.”

The word for volunteers is put out after the city affected by disaster makes the request for help.

“When the call comes out from Peoria it goes to our main office in Des Moines,” Hamman said. “The person in Des Moines puts the call out to me and I contact our volunteers.”

She added that she began contacting volunteers immediately after learning Peoria needed help.

“When I found out the need for drivers, I sent an email at 10:30 Sunday night asking if anyone was available,” Hamman said. “Two people said they were, and we kept them on standby until we had information saying where they needed to go.”

Hamman said it’s fairly common for Red Cross chapters from one state to be called to help out in another state.

“If they know that a disaster is going to be happening, a message will be sent out to all disaster directors saying they’re putting every emergency response vehicle on standby,” she said. “If something happens, you could be called the next day.”

One recent example was when a tornado struck Woodbury County on Oct. 4. At the time, Hamman said there were no emergency response vehicles in Iowa because they were all in Colorado helping with wildfire relief.

“They sent a message to chapters up in Minnesota,” she said. “By noon on Saturday (the next day) we had both of the emergency response vehicles from Rochester and Mankato in Minnesota here to help us. It’s pretty typical that they will cross the state lines.”

In all, Hamman said there are 15 Red Cross volunteers from Iowa helping out in Illinois.

“That doesn’t include volunteers from the Quad Cities and Council Bluffs areas,” she said.

When it comes to finding volunteers, Hamman said the Red Cross has a wide area to cover.

“One of our volunteers described it as like an earthquake,” she said. “They start at an epicenter and reach out in that radius area. There’s an 800-mile radius, and we make the request depending on what jobs there are.”