Red Cross expects to be here 3 or 4 more weeks
While the Coal Seam Fire may be winding down, the American Red Cross is just getting into gear.
“We’re just getting started,” said Red Cross spokesman Francisco Gonima. “People are getting back into their homes and thinking the disaster is over. We expect to be here three or four weeks.”
On Thursday, the Red Cross service center in the lobby of Glenwood Springs High School was virtually empty. Two women sat talking to case workers at one end of the room. Outside a Red Cross disaster truck was parked in front of the building, and close by was a table bearing food, water and literature.
People don’t realize that the Red Cross has two roles to play in a disaster such as the Coal Seam Fire, Gonima said – helping the first responders such as firefighters and law enforcement, but also to help people recover from their losses.
“Right now our No. 1 priority is to get out to the public that we are here to serve them,” Gonima said, “and not just people whose house has burned to the ground.”
He urged people who have lost their home, even if they have their own resources for finding a new place to live and replacing their household goods, to contact the Red Cross.
“We will not rest until we have made contact with every family (who lost their home). If they come to us, even if they don’t need anything, then we won’t worry about them anymore,” he said.
By Thursday, case workers had seen a total of 35 people who appealed for some kind of aid.
And the Red Cross continues to operate the shelter at Colorado Mountain College campus at Spring Valley. Wednesday about 48 people spent the night, Gonima said.
“The Red Cross shelter will remain open until the evacuation order is lifted,” Gonima said. As of Thursday it remained in effect. “It will stay open as long as its needed, until people get back in their homes or have alternative housing. We’re not rushing anyone out of there.”
The Red Cross is also working with local organizations to provide relief, including LIFT-UP, Defiance Thrift Store and the Salvation Army.
“We want to have a unified chain of service when people come into the service center,” Gonima said.
Many local churches and Defiance Thrift Store are offering clothing and furniture to victims who will be funneled through the Red Cross.
A new addition to Red Cross services is mental health counseling. The agency contracted with local therapy groups for their services, Gonima said.
“I was a first responder to Columbine,” he said. “That experience showed me the value of disaster mental health. We understand now our responsibility is to help with physical and emotional long-term disaster needs. We can’t just put a roof over their heads.”
Gonima said his agency has also made an effort to reach out to the Latino community.
“We have to explain we are not a government agency,” he said.
In Latin America, the Red Cross is associated with emergency medical care and public health initiatives.
“The don’t think the Red Cross is there to help them recover from a disaster,” he said.
But thanks to the efforts of a few local Latinos, the word is getting out.
Gonima pointed out that local disk jockey Guillermo Trejo at KGLN has made a tireless effort over the course of the fire to broadcast information about the Red Cross to his listeners.
For the weeks ahead, the Red Cross will work toward realizing its primary goal, “getting people back to their pre-disaster condition,” he said.
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