By BRADEN LAMMERS
A 115,000-square-foot warehouse at River Ridge Commerce Center is filled with stacks of items collected for victims of the March 2 tornadoes.
But there is a unique problem for the people running the warehouse. They are having difficulty giving the donations away.
“We need people to take the stuff,” said Joe Watts, national director of Adventist Community Services Disaster Response. “The thing that we’ll see is you’ll go out in these communities and you’ll take stuff and they’ll say ‘I’m hurting, but my neighbor’s hurting worse — help them.’”
Adventists Community Services has been helping to organize donations collected in the massive warehouse at 700 Patrol Road to go toward the relief effort for the tornado victims in northern Clark County.
Watts explained that the warehouse is serving as a the main distribution center for people in the affected areas and all donations are logged into its warehouse inventory module with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Once the donations are collected and presorted into their corresponding category, Adventist volunteers are notified about what is needed, and then they send it out to distribution centers in the affected communities.
On Tuesday, volunteers in the warehouse were packing up backpacks for kids from Henryville Elementary School who are restarting classes today in New Albany.
Joyce Blake, warehouse manager for Adventist Community Services Disaster Response, said the items that the community is in need of now are construction supplies, tools, hammers and wheel barrows. She added that boots in adult sizes, and new clothing, including socks and underwear are still needed.
“We don’t need water and we won’t accept any used clothing,” Blake said.
Early on, there was a glut of clothing donated to the tornado victims.
Blake said when she came into the warehouse the Monday morning after the Friday tornado, donations had been brought in dump trucks and there was a mountain of clothing several feet high and spread across an area of about 50 feet in length. The group partnered with Goodwill and donated the clothing to the organization, which is in turn issuing vouchers to the Red Cross and The Salvation Army for tornado victims to use in their stores.
“We’ve sent probably 10 semi trailers of clothing,” Blake said.
And the other donations haven’t stopped being collected.
“They’re just rolling in,” she said. “Donations are still coming in every day.”
Watts said the demand for items is pretty slow at present, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a need.
“One of the things that we have to think of ... we’re early on in the disaster and people maybe have not gotten settled,” he said. “If they’re not back ready to go to a home, then you don’t have a place to put anything.”
He also added that some people may be reluctant to accept the help.
“There’s times that you get into situations where people are so greedy that they’re grabbing for everything and want more,” Watts said. “And then you find people, like in this community ... that have need, but are looking around and seeing other people that have needs too and they’re concerned about their neighbor. And that’s kind of a neat thing, but it’s kind of frustrating from our standpoint because we’d like to help them. We have enough.”
“They didn’t even want to take the water thinking that somebody else needed it,” Blake said, referring to bottled water sent to the affected areas.
With the emergency response beginning to wind down, some agencies are beginning to shift their efforts back to their normal operations.
An American Red Cross Emergency Operations Center — set up at the former Colgate-Palmolive Co. plant in Clarksville — will probably transition back to its regular operations within the next week, said Red Cross Communications Associate Anna Rosales.
However, the Red Cross is still collecting monetary donations — they are directing those wishing to donate supplies to Adventist Community Services — and have collected more than $1 million to-date for storm victims in Indiana and Kentucky.
In addition, the United Way is still signing up volunteers who wish to assist in the aid effort.
Watts said Adventist Community Services typically runs warehouses like the one set up in River Ridge for about two or three months, but they may stay longer. He added the group still has a distribution center running in Joplin, Mo., which was struck by a tornado in May.
“We have this warehouse until it’s either leased or sold,” Watts said.
He added the long-term plan for the warehouse is to transition to collecting building supplies, furniture and appliances.
“We are here and we’re not pulling out,” Blake said. “We’re staying here as long as people need us.”