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STORIES FROM THE ROAD


JAN 24, 1994

DISASTER CENTER

For the past couple of days, I've been volunteering at a disaster center of the American Red Cross that was at a high school in Northridge, CA. It had been an experience that I will probably not forget. You could say that I've seen the good and bad in people.

My job was to give out mattress pads for the folding army cots that the people had been given to sleep on and also blankets. A lot of people were really grateful that they were being given something to use but others were really particular in what they were getting. They wanted a particular color, style, or amount. If I couldn't give in to their needs, they really complained.

What really got me was the condition in which the people turned in the blankets, cots, and pads. About a third of the cots had to be thrown out because the frames were bent or the covers were torn. About half of the blankets had to be thrown away because they either were covered with food, leaves, or mud. Some of the blankets were even turned in with dried feces.

I guess what also got me was seeing the greed in people. Some organization had donated clothes and shoes and these things were spread out in a field behind the school. Instead of just getting what they needed some people were just getting large mass of things. I noticed one couple pushing a shopping cart that was picked with a lot of clothes and shoes especially ones for kids but they didn't have any kids with them.

Were they actually getting the clothes and shoes for their own kids or were they planning to sell them? I had heard about a lot of people who were selling the things that were given to them at unbelievable prices. One gallon jugs of water that were given out for free were being sold for five dollars or more. What was left in the field was trampled with mud and there wasn't much that could be salvagable. They never thought that maybe these items could be used by somebody else at another center.

It was really hard for me to explain to a frustrated father that I couldn't help him find some shoes for his young son because there wasn't any more to give out. It also bothered me that I overheard while in the restroom how homeless people who had come up from Santa Monica in hopes to scam some of the FEMA and Red Cross workers. One guy commented that this was the third center that he had scammed because nobody was really checking out if the people there were actually victims.

Some other things that I won't forget were the hundreds of after-shocks I had felt while camping out at the high school. There were also a lot of National Guard soldiers in all of their military gear patrolling around. I can still see in my mind's eye the shadow of a soldier who was carrying his rifle in his arms while on patrol on the side of my tent.




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