One of the Jaycee Towers in downtown Chattanooga had a fire Monday, March 17, and about 200 people had to be evacuated until 4:00 pm Wednesday.
John Hitchens from the Red Cross called me at 11:45 Tuesday morning and asked me to chair a meeting of the Southeast Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) at 1:00—only an hour and 15 minutes from then! I hadn't even known about the fire until then, so people would have to listen to me pontificate about something I knew absolutely nothing about. I did hold the meeting—we actually had about 15 people show up on that short a notice!—and I had briefings from several of the agencies already involved, then discussed what the rest of us could do to assist. The Health Department agreed to send an inspector to check everyones' refrigerators to see if anything was spoiled. I told them I would find some clean-up kits so people could clean out their refrigerators. The Food Bank was going to send a week's worth of food to replace what had spoiled, etc. These people are low-income folks who are living on Social Security, food stamps, etc, and didn't have enough money to buy replacement food.
I thought we had a supply of clean-up kits left over from Calhoun last year, forgetting that we had given those to South Pittsburg for their mud slide cleanup. So I began frantically searching for clean-up kits from other agencies and soon found out no one else had any either. I did notice that I had a supply of empty 5-gallon buckets left over from some other disaster, some dust masks and some latex gloves, so I called the Food Bank to see if they had some things we could add and they agreed to help. I collected Rhonda, and we took our supplies over to the Food Bank, where they added cleaners, sponges, paper towels and a few other things. We then hauled everything over to the Jaycee Tower that was affected and handed them out to people as the buses brought them back from the shelter. The folks were thrilled. One elderly lady, when told that we were from Adventist Disaster Response (Melissa Blevins from the Food Bank was very generous about telling everyone that ACS DR supplied the clean-up goods), was excited and told us she used to come to Collegedale weekly and shop at the Village Market for her children, who all had allergies. She said the Village Market was the only place she could get the kind of food they could safely eat. The Salvation Army supplied several young ladies to help the residents carry their supplies up to their rooms. VOAD does work!