"American Red Cross — may I help you?!"

Phones rang off the hook at the Monroe County Red Cross as citizens responded to the chaos and horror of Louisiana and Mississippi. Three high school students stopped by to learn about volunteer opportunities, a soon-to-be-retiring physician called to pledge her help, and dozens walked in carrying donation checks.

"The response has been incredible, but then the citizens of this area are incredible," said Maria Carrasquillo, director of emergency services for the Red Cross chapter. Carrasquillo is the only paid disaster worker on staff. A volunteer-driven entity, the American Red Cross constantly maintains a roster of disaster volunteers, and trains community members in disaster relief year around.

"Often we must cancel trainings, because of lack of interest," Carrasquillo said. "Now we are scheduling special classes, to meet the demand of community members wanting to help people affected by the hurricane."

Carrasquillo asked that the public be persistent yet patient as her volunteer staff replies to community requests to help.

"We are thrilled by the level of support in our area," Carrasquillo said. "But this will be a long-term relief effort. The best thing community members can do at this point, in addition to monetary donations, is sign up for disaster relief training."

Staff and volunteers are busy fielding phone calls, e-mails, and walk-ins — hundreds per day.

"If you don't hear back from us immediately," Carrasquillo said, "please know that this disaster is unprecedented and that we greatly appreciate every offer of assistance."

Monetary donations may be sent to the chapter — please specify you donation as "Hurricane Relief" or "Hurricane Katrina," and include your contact information so the Red Cross may confirm that the donation was received, and send a thank you.

The American Red Cross — Monroe County Chapter is located at:

411 East 7th Street
Bloomington, IN 47408

You may also donate on-line at www.redcross.org.

Take a class in disaster relief voluntarism! Classes are filling up immediately so you may be asked to wait, but the need of disaster relief volunteers will never subside: call 333-9795.

For information on organizing a fund raiser for hurricane relief efforts, please call Carol Bentley, executive director of the Monroe County Red Cross: 333-9795.

Melissa McReynolds can be reached at melissa@galfriday.biz.