While Hurricane Dennis pummeled the Gulf Coast on Sunday, 80 Red Cross volunteers gathered at a staging area in Baton Rouge to load trucks with 35,000 meals and 2,000 cleanup kits for those affected by the storm.
The trucks arrived from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas on Sunday afternoon, pulling into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local hall on Tom Drive, which the Red Cross is using as a relay point to pack emergency supply vehicles.
Bob Wortman, chapter solutions manager for the southwest service area of Red Cross, said volunteers were filling about 30 mini-vans and Emergency Response Vehicles with provisional items that will leave early this morning.
Wortman said one response vehicle and two Red Cross volunteers from Baton Rouge will leave for the Gulf Coast this morning.
Wortman hopes the thousands of household products and prepackaged meals that the Red Cross is sending will help speed the recovery process.
From toothbrushes to mop buckets and packaged meals of mashed potatoes and beef -- there isn't much that the cleanup kits don't have.
Wortman said Hurricane Ivan caught a lot of people off guard last year, including the Red Cross, so the relief agency got organized a lot sooner this time around.
"We want to get in there as soon as possible," Wortman said. "I think when you look at Hurricane Dennis, on top of all the storms they got last year, we need to help them get back on their feet -- and they have a long way to go until they recover."
Sunday's crew of volunteers was an assortment of church volunteers, civic club members and residents from Baton Rouge and elsewhere. Forming human chains, dozens of volunteers passed boxes from four 18-wheeler trailers, chock-full of supplies.
Addison Welch, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has been in Baton Rouge the past month on a mission trip from his hometown of Salt Lake City.
To him, this is all part of doing God's work, he said.
"Even though we don't get to see the outcome of our work or the people's reactions, I know it is greatly benefiting them," Welch, 19, said Sunday. "It feels good to do this work."
Jeff Cardinale, president of the LSU Red Cross Club, was in communication with the Louisiana Capital Area chapter of the Red Cross as soon as he heard about the approaching storm.
Working in a sweat-drenched T-shirt, Cardinale said he was happy to help victims along the Gulf Coast.
"If something like this happened to us, I know they would help us -- it's like I am returning the favor before it happens," Cardinale, 21, said.
Sunday afternoon, Red Cross volunteers still did not know where along the Gulf Coast they would be deployed.
Worth Haggerton, the emergency services manager for Red Cross in central Texas, said orders will probably come once the emergency response vehicles are en route this morning.
Haggerton said he has been in Louisiana since Wednesday, monitoring Hurricane Dennis for the Red Cross at the Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge.
While the storm largely spared Louisiana, Haggerton said he would not be surprised if the Red Cross will be needed in Louisiana.
Haggerton said he had heard the National Weather Service report Sunday that the storm might stall after landfall, which could dump heavy rains over northern portions of Louisiana.
"We are getting ready for that," Haggerton said.
Organizations accepting donations to help storm victims
Some charitable organizations recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency:
AMERICAN RED CROSS DISASTER RELIEF FUND, (800) 435-7669 or www.redcross.org
LA. CAPITAL AREA CHAPTER OF THE RED CROSS, 10201 Mayfair Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70809, (225) 291-4533.
CATHOLIC CHARITIES, USA, (800) 919-9338, or http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org
SALVATION ARMY, (800) 725-2769 or http://www.1800salarmy.org
UNITED METHODIST COMMITTEE ON RELIEF, (800) 554-8583, or http://gbgm-umc.org
For a complete list of charitable agencies recommended by FEMA, go to http://www.fema.gov/rrr/help2.shtm