The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 16, 2017 1:00 am

Area volunteers make presence felt

Working, helping in disaster zones

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Down in hurricane-ravaged Georgia, where Mike Hallien has spent the week helping assess damage, a woman carrying a small boy into a home caught his attention.

“Are you OK?” Hallien said he asked the woman in Savannah, where he's volunteering with the American Red Cross.

“Yes,” the woman responded. But she was worried about a ventilator with a battery running low. The machine helps her 2-year-old son breathe, so her husband was out looking for a generator, after appeals through social media didn't help.

Hallien initially suggested the woman's family consider refuge in one of the shelters housing hundreds without electricity, severe flooding or structural damage – sometimes all three – as a result of Hurricane Irma. But the woman was concerned a public shelter might not be as sanitary and comfortable as the place her family calls home.

So after a chain of telephone calls that Hallien jump-started through Red Cross circles, someone deemed the situation a medical emergency. And a new generator was delivered to the family the same day, along with a gas card.

“That night I could sleep fairly well knowing that little boy was going to have a ventilator,” Hallien said in a telephone interview late Thursday. “It just happened to be one of those things where we were in the right place at the right time and saw a need.”

Hallien, who worked with Indiana's highway department more than 40 years before retiring, is a volunteer with the Northeast Fire Department in Grabill.

He is one of hundreds from northeast Indiana who have volunteered or been assigned to Texas, Florida, Georgia or other states hit hard in the past month by hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Area volunteers from the Children's Disaster Service, which provides structured activity to keep youth safe and busy during crises, are also assisting.

Paul and Kathy Fry-Miller have been in Florida the past week, expecting to return to North Manchester in a few days. Pam Leffers of Fort Wayne returned from helping in Texas shelters this week.

Indiana Michigan Power, Northeast REMC, Heartland REMC and Paulding Putnam Electric Cooperative in Ohio are among utilities that have sent workers to help restore electricity.

George Carter, president and CEO of the Paulding Putnam cooperative, said his crew, deployed Tuesday and initially expected to be in the Camilla, Georgia, area at least 10 days, completed work early and expected to be back by this weekend.

Paul Fry-Miller said he and his wife arrived in Orlando on Sept. 8. Children's Disaster Service, a program of the Church of the Brethren and supported by several faith-based denominations, is a Red Cross partner. The Fry-Millers have helped at shelters in Cross City, Florida, about 90 minutes from Gainesville, and at one near Fort Meyers on the Florida Gulf Coast University campus.

This was supposed to be vacation week – a pre-paid trip to the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area, he said. But then, the hurricanes. So a friend, who happened to need to evacuate from Florida, are enjoying the rented cabin in Gatlinburg.

The Fry-Millers are enjoying their work in Florida. 

They've seen lots of homes with flooding; national guardsmen helping provide security; adults who were afraid as hurricane-related storms swept through; and plenty of children who need a sense of normalcy in what might seem like chaos.

“Kids need to be able to do something other than be shelter kids,” Fry-Miller said in a telephone interview. “Play-Doh is the big thing.”

There are dolls and trucks, too. Stethoscopes are popular. Children like playing doctor, including giving shots, he said. And along with the compassion from volunteers, businesses are chipping in – like one deli that sent 500 boxed lunches to a shelter Thursday, Fry-Miller said.

“When people settle in a bit, that anxiety and chaos level starts to go down and people start relating to people with compassion,” he said. “It's a stressful environment.”

Fry-Miller is a physician's assistant with Parkview Health. He's been amazed at the flexibility and efficiency of the Red Cross, trying to address safety concerns and meet basic needs.

“This is my first disaster deployment,” he said. “What an eye-opener.”

Leffers worked at shelters in Dallas, which were housing people who fled Houston, Beaumont and other areas. She left Aug. 27, initially landing in San Antonio, and returned Monday.

In the midst of her helping others affected by the hurricane season, her husband went to Florida to check on a property they have in Big Pine Key.

“We had two hurricanes we were kind of juggling all at the same time,” Leffers said.

In Texas, the shelter at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center was the largest Leffers helped at. Two others were much smaller. Like Fry-Miller, she saw compassion and generosity, such as Walmart setting up a “pop-up shop” and giving people clothing and toiletries.

The help Children's Disaster Service gives parents a reprieve – sometimes just for a shower or nap, said Leffers, who is retired from years of working with youth through the Early Childhood Alliance.

“The need was so intense,” she said. “Lots of families. Lots of people with disabilities. Lots of people who you knew were very poor and had very few resources, and so they were happy to have a cot and to be fed.”

Share this article

Email story

Subscribe to our newsletters

* indicates required