Champaign hosts evacuee center

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Online Poster

By David Valdes

Around 100 families, evacuated from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, have passed through the Katrina Evacuee Center located on the top floor of Illinois Terminal in Champaign. Volunteers, American Red Cross employees and other local volunteers are offering their services to help run the center, which will be open until Friday.

“The goal of the center is to, once we help immediate needs, think long-term for these people,” said Tammy Lemke, president and CEO of Champaign County’s United Way.

The center’s five-step aide process begins with an assessment of immediate needs such as food, shelter and clothing with the American Red Cross.

The second step is the health care station, where people’s specific needs are attended. Lemke said while some evacuees arrived prior to the flooding, others were actually exposed to open floodwater.

“If that’s the case, then we give them their shots, like TB and others,” Lemke said.

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    The center’s third station offers assistance from the Mental Health Center of Champaign County. At this point, evacuees have access to short-term counseling and other services as requested.

    Then, the Salvation Army assists them during the fourth stage. Emergency lodging, food and clothing, prescription assistance, bus tokens and tickets, and gas vouchers are available at this time based on need.

    The final step is to go to the Urban League of Champaign County, and deal with issues of unemployment, school registration and childcare resources.

    Lemke said everyone in the Evacuee Center is there because of a previous tie to the city.

    “They have family or friends here in Champaign,” Lemke said.

    Most evacuees arrived in Champaign by bus, she said.

    “I think the center is a model of what people can do when they work together,” Lemke said. “We have people working here as well as their main jobs.”

    Andrea Rundell, vice president of the community impact sector of United Way, said she attended a meeting with about 50 service providers, such as housing, health services and ambulance companies to ask for help.

    Rundell also said evacuees’ medication was a major issue.

    “You don’t want a diabetic off their meds,” she said. “Some people with prescriptions have been off of them for over 10 days.”

    Rundell said when Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Illinois would take in up to 15,000 evacuees, she had to start planning to accommodate a fraction of those people.

    “They alerted us that we may be seeing this happen,” Rundell said.

    However, Champaign did not receive the anticipated influx of evacuees.

    Rundell said there are plenty of volunteers who want to help, but simply aren’t qualified for most of the positions where help is needed.

    “There (are) a very limited number of volunteers who are Red Cross-trained,” she said. “I can’t assign volunteers to public health.”

    Vernessa Gipson, family services coordinator for the Regional Office of Education and director for education, youth development and family support for the Urban League of Champaign County, said her involvement has been mainly in assisting families.

    “We’ve been helping parents by enrolling their children in childcare and HeadStart,” Gipson said.

    She said the amount of time evacuees spend in the center varies.

    “Some people are here for about 30 minutes, some for an hour,” Gipson said. “It depends on the family’s needs.”

    A few families have left their particular marks on the Evacuee Center, she said.

    “We like to say we’ve adopted one family as our own,” Gipson said. “When she came, she had one child still missing.”

    The woman’s child had been visiting her father when the hurricane struck.

    “The other day, she got the call that her daughter was found (alive) in Arkansas,” Gipson said.

    Professionals were not the only people assisting at the Evacuee Center, however. Katie Schumacher, a freshman at R.E.A.D.Y. High School, has been doing her part by babysitting the children evacuees.

    “The kids are really nice and have all been really happy,” Schumacher said.

    However, she said the kids are not oblivious to the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused.

    “We’ll ask them where they’re from, and they’ll tell us what’s going on there,” Schumacher said. “They know what’s going on back home.”