Red Cross center closing at week’s end

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Despite assurances it would be in place for a minimum of threeweeks, the American Red Cross regional disaster relief center inMonticello is closing Friday.

The move, announced Tuesday night during a meeting of theMonticello Board of Aldermen, is part of a reorganization ofresources by the national office, said Debra Deininger, publicaffairs manager at the Monticello center. Many Red Cross personnelare being moved further south to assist victims on the devastatedGulf Coast.

Jack Sitch, assistant public affairs manager at the center, saidthat while the move apparently had been discussed at theheadquarters, volunteers at the local center only learned of theclosing Tuesday afternoon. The Monticello center did not have anyinput in the decision, he said.

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Designed as a regional center that would draw from neighboringcounties after their offices closed Friday, the Monticello centerhad plans to be in place until at least mid-October and wasprojected to process more than 5,000 people a day at the Kellwoodbuilding.

Since the center opened six days ago, Deininger said, the numberof claimants has peaked at 3,000 because of a combination of demandand volunteers able to process claims.

To date, she said, more than 200,000 Mississippi families havereceived assistance through the American Red Cross.

A further change, Deininger said, is that the Monticello centerwill no longer issue debit cards. As of Monday, all applicationstaken at the center are sent to a regional headquarters inMontgomery, Ala., where they are reviewed. Qualified applicantswill receive assistance through the mail.

Furthermore, people with claims are being encouraged to call1-866-GET-INFO to file for assistance. The line has been designatedto handle claims from Mississippi, Alabama and the Floridapanhandle. As of this morning, callers to 1-866-GET-INFO forassistance following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were told to call1-800-975-7585. That number has been in service for weeks, but RedCross officials said Tuesday it would now be designated for claimsfrom Texas and Louisiana.

“It will be busy, and people will have to wait, but at leastthey can wait comfortably and not in a long car line suffering fromthe heat,” Deininger said.