Grand Strand looks to help in aftermath of Sandy

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Members with local emergency management groups say keeping people safe during disaster relief is a top priority, including volunteers.

They recommend individuals considering volunteering in the relief efforts, do so through an organization or agency. Joining an organized relief effort is not only more efficient, but safer.

Nanci Conley, a representative for the local chapter of the American Red Cross, says what they don't want are individuals going to these disaster areas solo.

They see it happen after every natural disaster and it becomes a problem. This puts even more pressure on emergency management crews who already have their hands full. Individuals usually don't have a place to stay and finding places to eat in a disaster area can be a challenge.

Organizations like The American Red Cross will send groups of volunteers to the relief sites. Conley says the Sandy relief effort will likely be a long process and there will be a lot of opportunities to volunteer. Conley also emphasizes the importance of training.

"The best help they can do is become a trained volunteer and start at the local level. You don't want it to be the first time and be suddenly feeding thousands of people  and have no experience and have no idea what to do. It's imperative for the safety of the volunteer and for those they are going to be serving," explains Conley.

Volunteers will usually commit to three week increments at a time. For those who can't make that kind of commitment, there are other options. One of those options is to donate money to non-profit groups leading disaster relief efforts. Conley says this gets very expensive for organizations so any monetary donations are a help.

Conley also stresses the need for blood donors, especially now that thousands of blood drives in the northeast will have to be canceled and injured people in the affected areas will add to the need for blood.

Local nursing students Abby Calhoun and Kourtney Ellison are already thinking of ways to help especially since they are familiar with the aftermath of a storm.

"I've grown up here so I was here through Hugo, so we kind of know a little bit about what it's like to experience a hurricane and it's really scary," says Ellison.

"I did some clean up with Katrina. so I would rather be hands on than just sending something," adds Calhoun.

Conley says the American Red Cross does not collect donated goods, but recommends reaching out to local church groups who may be collecting items. For more information on becoming a volunteer, donation money or donating blood, call (843) 477-0020.

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