Lawrence Co. Red Cross center aims to serve many

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

A much-anticipated American Red Cross regional center openedthis morning in Lawrence County with a goal of assisting 5,000people a day.

A large staff of Red Cross volunteers from across the UnitedStates is participating in the effort to address the needs of thosewho suffered damage from Hurricane Katrina across southwestMississippi.

“I know a lot of centers have opened in other communities. We’vedesigned this to be a larger site and to be here for a long time,”said Mary Alice Breuninger, center director. “Because of that,we’re hoping people will come in a timely manner – but they don’thave to be here tomorrow to get served.”

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The center has contracted the Kellwood building for three weeks,she said, “but we also haven’t had any discussion to extend thatbecause we don’t yet know what the caseload will be.”

It is quite possible the center will remain longer, Breuningersaid.

“We’re not going away,” she said. “That’s the key message. We’rea consistent place people can come. We’ll be here as long as thereis a caseload.”

The center will be open seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. to 5p.m., she said. The east gate of the building will close at 5 p.m.,but those inside the gate will be served.

Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames said 40 to 50 lawenforcement officers and National Guardsmen will be on hand eachday providing security and assistance to those waiting in line.

The route of the line changed Wednesday, Thames said, because ofconcerns it could cause difficulties for school buses at Rod PaigeMiddle School.

Thames and Monticello Police Chief David Stanley devised a routethat begins on Highway 27 South, turns onto Tommy Jolly Drive andturns again onto Graham Avenue. Officers will be stationed at theintersection of Graham Avenue and Highway 84 to direct peopleacross the highway to the Kellwood building as the line enters theeast gate. The west gate will be used for those exiting thebuilding.

For security reasons and to avoid line-breaking attempts,walk-ups will not be allowed in the gate, Thames said.

“There is too much opportunity for line-breaking and themisperception of line-breaking with walk-ups because of(businesses) near the gate where people could park,” he said.”People will have to be in a vehicle to be allowed into thegate.”

Breuninger said the local Red Cross chapter can answer many ofthe questions of what types of damage the organization will providesome compensation for.

Damages resulting from power outage, such as food loss, are notcovered by the Red Cross, she said.

“If power outage is the only hardship they have then,unfortunately, the Red Cross will not be able to assist them,”Breuninger said.

Once inside, people will be screened to determine the amount ofdamage and the best way the Red Cross can assist them, she said.The initial screening will also log all incoming traffic andcompare those entries with claims already made to detect fraud.

“We’re trying to be very mindful of that,” Breuninger said.”Money given to those committing fraud is money that is not makingit to the people who really need it.”

Once the process is complete, claimants will receive debit cards- not checks – on site, she said.