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Local volunteers return after time on Gulf Coast

December 24, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Elaine Hurd and Carolyn Riggins were two of the many volunteers who converged on the Gulf Coast, from hundreds of miles away, after Hurricane Katrina hit.

"I just felt like I could do something more than donate money," said Hurd, 58.

"I felt a calling that I really wanted to do this," said Riggins, 45, of Boonsboro.

Ten weeks after the hurricane lashed out, Hurd and Riggins, separately, went to New Orleans as American Red Cross volunteers.

Hurd, a retired public health nurse who lives in Rohrersville, helped with bulk distribution. She gave out large quantities of almost everything a hurricane victim might need daily or weekly - toiletries, ice, water, cleaning supplies, dishwashing soap, mops, brooms, tarpaulins, shovels and more.

She mostly stayed at a shelter in a church in La Place, 25 miles northwest of New Orleans.

Each morning at 6, she and others picked up trucks of supplies. Her group then went to New Orleans and set up a distribution center at an elementary school. Gates opened at 10 a.m. and closed when supplies ran out.

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Three hundred to four hundred people came per day.

"Everyone was very thankful and grateful," Hurd said.

Riggins, a receptionist at Reeders Memorial Home in Boonsboro, gave out meals from "emergency response vehicles," or ERVs.

She mostly stayed at a recreation center in Kenner, about 10 miles west of New Orleans. Each day, volunteers brought ERVs to a kitchen at a Southern Baptist church and stocked them with hundreds of meals - hot dogs, chili, hamburgers, various forms of chicken, rice, beans.

Sometimes, ERVs stayed put and people came to them; sometimes, they rolled through neighborhoods, stopping as needed.

One of Riggins' nicest memories was giving toys on Thanksgiving to a 3-year-old girl, who broke into a big smile, thanked Riggins and hugged her.

Washington County's Red Cross chapter was at least a few weeks behind others in the Tri-State area in training volunteers to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

But Hurd and Riggins said people in the Gulf Coast region still needed their help 2 1/2 months later.

Hurd was in Louisiana from Nov. 11 to Dec. 2.

Riggins was there from Nov. 10 through 30. She ended her tour a few days early to be with her 21-year-old son, Matthew, who was driving a FedEx box truck that hit a guardrail on Interstate 70 and went down an embankment. His injuries were minor.

Riggins had her Thanksgiving meal with other volunteers after a day of serving others.

Hurd was away from home for both Thanksgiving and her birthday, which was Nov. 14.

She used two breaks during her stay in the South to explore. She saw Venice, in the southeast "boot" of the state, and Gulfport, Miss., two hard-hit areas.

Both women saw ruination of a greater magnitude than they imagined from their homes.

"I've never seen - hope to never see again - devastation and destruction like that," Hurd said.

Still, both remarked on how good victims' spirits were amidst the sudden topsy-turviness of their lives.

Hurd has a picture of a house that the storm shoved a good distance. Painted on the side of the house was "Wicked Witch," with an arrow pointed down - a "Wizard of Oz" joke.

Hurd and Riggins entered their volunteer tours inexperienced and uncertain, but said they finished satisfied and ready to help again.

Riggins, who plans to move out of the area next year, thinks she might become a contract worker for the Red Cross.

"I just decided that I can't just sit home and do nothing," Hurd said.

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