Residents find ways to help out in disaster
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
© St. Petersburg Times,
"I'd really like to be under 29 and join the Marines and blow somebody's fanny away," Sterling said Wednesday.
At 65, however, that isn't an option. Instead, Sterling put her skills as a registered nurse to work by volunteering at the Hernando Community Blood Bank.
"I came in last night and I came in again today," she said, stethoscope draped around her neck as she waited for the next person to have his blood pressure checked. "There's plenty to do. You don't have to do just nursing things. You can empty the trash. Pitch in."
When disaster strikes more than 1,000 miles away, it's easy to feel thwarted in your desire to help. Response teams in New York hardly know the full magnitude of the damage, Hernando County emergency management officer Bill Appleby said, so it comes as no surprise that leaders there are not calling for outside assistance.
As a result, the main way people felt like they could make a difference was at the blood bank.
More than 300 people turned out at the center Tuesday, with collection continuing until 1:30 a.m. By noon Wednesday, another 200 residents had come to donate with more on the way.
"I woke up to the second building collapsing yesterday," said Kristen McFarland, a 19-year-old college student from Spring Hill. "The first thing that ran through my mind was, "Blood!' I sat here nine hours yesterday and didn't get to give blood, so I'm back again today."
The wait to get into the donating chair exceeded three hours. Local hospitals supported the effort, but could not set up other collection sites to ease the crunch.
With all the strict standards in place for blood collection, "there was no way our employees could meet the competency check fast enough," said Candie Starr, Oak Hill Hospital laboratory director.
No one seemed fazed.
"You have to commit yourself and not just see if it's convenient. Commit yourself for the country," said Jerry Faber, 71, of Spring Hill.
Faber recalled living through Nazi occupation of her home country, Holland, during World War II. People helped each other through those times, she said, and they will come together as Americans now.
"It was just beyond words ... hard to understand (that) it was really happening, and still the personal tragedy that people are going through is very sobering," Faber said. "The best thing we can do is pray and be helpful around where you live."
Donating blood is a good start, said Susan Warner, 30, of Spring Hill, who donated because she figured that the surviving victims need it more than she does.
"I've got six boxes of clothes at home for donations," she said. "I'll see what my church is going to do."
(As a general rule, relief agencies prefer cash donations rather than used clothing or items.)
Several residents also are offering to drop everything and help as soon as their help is needed.
"I want to do something," said Dr. Gaurav Malhotra, an internist with walk-in clinics in Spring Hill and Brooksville. "I think a lot of medical help will be needed there ... even if it's not the trauma people. Let the surgeons deal with the trauma people and if a heart attack comes in, I can take care of that."
Late Wednesday, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers stated in a news release that they have received ample quantities of blood from thousands of area donors. Blood donations will still be accepted, but won't necessarily go to New York or Washington, D.C. Instead, they would go to patients throughout the United States requiring transfusions.
Dr. Geetha Priyanka, a Brooksville internist, said she's waiting to learn if more doctors are needed in New York before she heads north. Her brother lives in New York and missed arriving at the World Trade Center at the time of the first plane crash because his subway train was 20 minutes late.
The American Red Cross district office has its volunteers on alert, including mental health experts from Hernando County and Central Florida.
"All of our volunteers who have gone through Red Cross training and entered our national system are on standby," said Shelley Allen, spokeswoman for the Florida Coast to Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross. "No one has been called."
County paramedics and sheriff's deputies stand ready to assist, too. But New York officials are having trouble managing the volunteers who already have arrived and they have asked that no one else come until asked, said Lt. Joe Paez, a Sheriff's Office spokesman.
Area residents also have begun calling social service organizations asking what they can do. The Salvation Army of Hernando County, for instance, is accepting money earmarked with notes for relief efforts in New York and Washington.
- Times staff writers Saundra Amrhein and Joy Davis-Platt contributed to this story.
Salvation Army accepting money
The Salvation Army of Hernando County is accepting money donations for the relief effort at P.O. Box 1135, Brooksville, FL 34605. To ensure the money goes to the right place, include a note stating how you want the money to be used.
Red Cross can help with search
Relatives trying to reach missing loved ones can call the American Red Cross for assistance toll-free at 1-800-896-9749.
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