When Rhonda Bentley, the Trigg County Red Cross chapter chair, arrived at headquarters Wednesday morning, she was surprised to find not only families there who had lost their homes, but also a crowd of people wanting to coordinate with her. For the rest of the day, the phone just kept ringing with requests to help.
The outpouring of support for the families was welcome, but a bit overwhelming for Bentley and Angie Mills, the chapter executive. Mills was faced with the exhausting task of calling numerous churches and local agencies to tell them what they could do that wasn’t already being done by someone else.
Last Tuesday’s fire was the biggest local disaster in at least five years, Bentley said. During the massive snowstorms of December 2004, the Red Cross had to provide shelter for close to 500 people when I-24 was closed, but none of those people lived in Trigg County and it was an emergency that didn’t have a continuing impact in the way last week’s fire does.
Thirty-two people lost their homes in the fire, and 17 of them were children younger than 12, Bentley said. A disaster on this scale hits their budget all at once, which means they have to coordinate with the Louisville headquarters and borrow from them as well. As of Friday, they had spent $6,000.
With so much work to do, Bentley said that her emotions mostly stay in check. When counseling people who have lost their homes in fires, she advises them not go to Wal-Mart shopping by themselves because they will be reminded of how much they’ve lost, and the grief may be too much. The people she counsels are already in a lot of pain, so Bentley has to stay calm and detached.
“If you cry when they cry, it doesn’t help,” she said.
Red Cross provided vouchers for clothing, shoes, one week of groceries and three nights hotel lodging. The problem is that they have limits on how much they can spend on each person and that they are only equipped to help with short-term immediate needs, Bentley said. The next step is the biggest challenge because Red Cross can’t collect money for any specific families or give preferential treatment.
For the rest of this story, read this week's Cadiz Record.