While Hurricane Irma approaches, a volunteer network organization, Bulloch County VOAD, will coordinate local plans to feed and potentially shelter people displaced by the storm.
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster is a coalition with organizations such as the American Red Cross, Feeding America, United Way Worldwide and major faith-based charities as nationwide members. National VOAD also has state members and community organizations that promise to adhere to its values.
The Bulloch County group grew out of an effort to respond to local needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew last October.
“This was really an organic effort that just happened last year with Matthew, and because all of us are ordinary citizens and we have different roles, we ran into challenges requesting services, like USDA food and services from governmental agencies,” said DeWayne Grice, volunteer coordinator for Bulloch County VOAD.
Although National VOAD is a nongovernmental organization, its standards are recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“What FEMA has done is they understand that after a disaster, the first three to five days are the most critical time to get resources, so this allows us to handle things that they can’t do,” Grice said. “Last time, with all those trees down, emergency workers were so tied up doing emergency stuff, they didn’t have time to do the human stuff, things volunteers could do.”
Creating a local VOAD also secured Bulloch County volunteers “a seat at the table,” with local and state officials in planning for disaster response, he said.
David Ball, often involved in behind-the-scenes roles in local volunteer efforts, was one of the organizers of the new VOAD. The first meeting was held one month after Matthew hit the Statesboro area with tropical storm-force winds and heavy rain, leaving some residents of Bulloch and neighboring counties without electrical power for almost a week.
“We started in November. We waited a month to really kind of sit down and say, ‘All right, now what do we need to do?’ And everybody came in with all these suggestions, and we don’t always agree, but most of the time we’re going to do what’s right,” Ball said.
When volunteers started organizing the local VOAD, they thought five or six years might pass before something like this was needed again, he said.
“And now here we go,” Ball said Friday. “So it has kind of paid off.”
Ball supplied space in a 60,000-square-foot warehouse he owns adjacent to the Outreach Center Inc. of Bulloch County for VOAD to take delivery of additional food and other materials this week. A little over 80,000 pounds of food was brought in from America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia. Crider Foods, the Stillmore-based meat packaging company, donated a tractor trailer and driver to transport the food to the warehouse, Grice said. VOAD will be calling in volunteers to bag and distribute it, if needed.
About 30 people met at lunchtime Friday for a planning session at the Outreach Center, which the local Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster uses as its headquarters. People from full-time organizations with offices there, such as Concerted Services Inc., plan with VOAD. Bob Olliff, executive director of United Way of Southeast Georgia, chairs the Bulloch County VOAD executive committee.
John Long, director of Christian Social Ministries, and Don Poe from Statesboro Food Bank are in charge of VOAD’s food provisioning. In addition to the 81,000 pounds of food in the warehouse, the volunteer groups have access to provisions for 500 families at the Christian Social Ministries food pantry, and the Food Bank has another 80,000-pound delivery slated for next Saturday, Long said.
The Rebecca’s Café kitchen at the Food Bank is currently out of service because of a leaking roof, so any meals would have to be prepared and served at other locations. First United Methodist Church, with assistance from other churches and organizations, hosts a soup kitchen for people in need each Saturday at noon and would make its facilities and volunteers available, said the Rev. Jimmy Cason, First United Methodist pastor.
“Probably after the fact when we’re going to be out of power for five or six days, we’re going to have a lot of people losing food – like Matthew, where so many people didn’t have any food at all – so they come to us, and that’s who we’re hoping to be able to assist,” Cason said.
Saturday, VOAD identified “Good Samaritan Last Resort” shelters at several churches and a community center that will open beginning Sunday, most at 5 p.m.
VOAD requests that people go to these places only as a last resort and bring their own food, medications and bedding. Sites listed Saturday were CrossRoads Community Church in Statesboro, St. Andrews Chapel, which has a Sylvania address, Register Baptist Church in Register and New Beginning Community Fellowship at Willow Hill Heritage and Renaissance Center near Portal.
See http://bullochcountyvoad.org for details, restrictions and contact information for these shelters and any updates. The “Bulloch VOAD” Facebook page is also an information source on the storm response.
Another VOAD organizer, Chris Yaughn, director of Fostering Bulloch, is also involved with Broken Shackle Ranch and Mighty Man Ministries. Broken Shackle Ranch’s Joseph House and Fostering Bulloch’s Seventh-Mile Farm share the acreage around a former golf course off Georgia Highway 46 in the southern end of the county.
I-16 back to normal
One effort that might have been launched from there, rescuing people stranded on Interstate 16 during the evacuation of the Georgia coast, wasn’t required. Traffic was light Saturday during the state-ordered contraflow, and the Georgia Department of Transportation restored the interstate to normal use at 4 p.m. Saturday.
But the organizations Yaughn works with have unique resources and will be ready to assist with feeding and sheltering people. Their volunteers would also form “chainsaw committees” for clearing fallen trees in a storm’s immediate aftermath, he said.
The Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive director Becky Davis and marketing manager Justin Samples are VOAD participants. The Visitors Center was open its normal hours Saturday, and Davis and Samples plan to let other employees stay home Monday and Tuesday but to keep the center open themselves, as a contact point for people seeking refuge here. Davis sees a link between the bureau’s work and VOAD’s.
“We have visitors here that are evacuating from other areas, and we want to be sure that they have safe lodging and have access to food and water in time of need,” she said.
Projections of Irma’s path were revised westward Saturday, and National Hurricane Center maps showed it traveling up the western coast of Florida. But they also showed the storm entering southwestern Georgia at hurricane force. A tropical storm warning was issued for this area.
“Expect power outages and fallen trees beginning some time Sunday p.m.,” Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said in his 5 p.m. Saturday update.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.