Volunteers here awaiting marching orders after Matthew

Published 9:37 am Tuesday, October 11, 2016


In Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath, hundreds of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps FEMA Corps volunteers are preparing to follow in its wake to help in the relief effort.

The AmeriCorps NCCC Southern Region campus in Vicksburg is serving as the hub for these FEMA Corps volunteers before they are shipped off to the storm-ravaged coast to offer help.

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“This is called staging in disaster response. They are essentially just waiting for firm service assignments on the east coast in response to Hurricane Matthew. They could end up anywhere from South Carolina down through Florida,” Rich Smith, deputy region director for programming, said.

Vicksburg is serving as the staging location because it is the best place to meet geographically to the disaster area and it also has the largest campus to accommodate the numbers.

“Four of our five campuses are actually here right now so there are approximately 300 members right now on campus,” Ted Rivera, community relations specialist, said. The three campuses, other than Vicksburg, that are here are based in Baltimore, Md., Sacramento, Calif. and Vinton, Iowa. The fifth campus is located in Denver, Colo.

FEMA supervisors have already sent out some teams made up of six to 10 people over the weekend, but even more are waiting to get the call to go, which could take days or weeks. The Corps members are staying in on-site dorms as well as in tents set up in the Massenburg Memorial Athletic Center.

“This is a huge temporary boon to the community. Normally we would have one team here through the regular NCCC program. If it weren’t for all this going on they would be the only team on this whole campus,” Smith said. “This is something that wasn’t scheduled, but we have this burst of almost 300 members who are here going out to eat, going to Wal-Mart, going to Kroger, spending all that money, doing service projects on the side as they wait for their assignments.”

The FEMA Corps volunteers who have come to Vicksburg are taking a moment to rest from the most recent work they did in Baton Rouge in response to the August flooding. However, they are continuing with small service projects like helping with the Over the River Run and planning a service day at the Beulah Cemetery. They are also taking advantage of the downtime by working on debriefings for Louisiana and their end of project portfolios, team leader Becca Tasker said.

“We call those transition activities,” Smith said.

Once the FEMA Corps members get to the disaster areas the teams will work in different capacities. Team member Dina Manco said in Baton Rouge her team worked in external affairs and was media-oriented.

“I was in intergovernmental affairs so I helped connect the local officials with FEMA,” Manco said.

Tasker said other teams canvased residential areas to talk with the residents and help connect them to FEMA aid and resources. The volunteers could be helping the relief effort anywhere from a month to two months.

FEMA Corps was designed specifically for disaster response, recovery and emergency management. Members of FEMA Corps teams must be between the ages of 18 and 24 and volunteer for a 10-month term of service starting in February. Applications are due Nov. 1. For more information, call 601-630-4076, email trivera@cns.gov or visit americorps.gov/nccc.