Red Cross volunteer Hank Welch at Evanston First Responder Open House.

If you’re looking to help those in hurricane-devastated Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, you can, of course, make a financial donation.

But you could also donate your time and go to the impacted areas as a Red Cross volunteer. It requires some training, plus a commitment stay in the hurricane zone for two weeks.

It also requires a true willingness to help under incredibly difficult conditions.

Hank Welch, an Evanstonian who is the food relief co-ordinator for the Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross, manned a table Sunday at the city’s First Responder Open House.

While providing Red Cross information in general, Welch also talked about what the organization is doing to help the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost everything due to Hurricane Ian.

The Illinois Red Cross has already sent 40 volunteers to the three Southern states, and plans to send 50 more in the next couple of days.

But the need will stretch far beyond this week.

So the agency is looking for help.

If you’re interested in providing such in-person assistance, you’ll need to take seven hours of online training, attend an orientation session, and agree to stay in Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina as a Red Cross volunteer for the two-week period.

Don’t expect luxury. You’ll stay in the same Red Cross shelters that house hurricane victims. You’ll help with shelter services, perhaps provide snacks and meals to emergency crews and displaced residents, or try to find temporary housing for those residents, a true challenge when so much of the housing stock has been destroyed.

“Managing chaos” is how Welch puts it.

But you’ll also provide some much-needed positivity.

Welch says a disaster victim’s typical reaction when the Red Cross shows up is “Oh my God, help is here!”

The need for Evanston-area volunteers was significant even before Hurricane Ian. As with so many other things the past couple of years, the COVID pandemic has cut into the number of those willing or able to do things in person.

Welch says there used to be 85-90 active Red Cross emergency volunteers in suburban Cook County and Lake County.

Now there are only 50.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, call 1-800-Red Cross. Or, you can donate to the hurricane relief fund via redcross.org, or though a variety of other charitable, social service or religious organizations.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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