The Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross is undertaking a "huge challenge" by trying to recruit 500 new volunteers - more than double its existing volunteer pool - from northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan to send to hurricane-stricken areas over the next several months.
"We've never done anything like this before," said Tim Yenrick, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter. "We're going to have a lot of gray hair, but they really need [the help]. And we need to replace the volunteers down there."
To get some sense of what a massive task this will be, consider this: The local chapter will have sent 19 volunteers to help out with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts by the end of today, its largest response to any national disaster.
By the end of the year, it's supposed to have sent all 500 of the new recruits.
The local chapter, which includes Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties, has about 200 active volunteers and another
200 or so occasional volunteers to respond to disasters and other emergencies.
These new volunteers will come from throughout the region, not just the Toledo metro area.
They'll be sent in small groups, not all at once, for 10-day stints.
The local chapter is one of 50 chapters among 900 across the country selected as part of an effort announced on Saturday to recruit 40,000 new Red Cross volunteers nationwide to help out with hurricane relief efforts.
Other Ohio and Michigan chapters taking part in this recruitment effort include Columbus, Cleveland, and Kalamazoo, Mich.
"This is a disaster operation unlike any we've ever done before," said Joe Lambright, a Red Cross executive who oversees chapters in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Kentucky.
In most cases, the new recruits will be deployed as soon as they're trained because volunteers already in the hurricane-affected areas are tiring and need replacing, Mr. Lambright said.
National Red Cross officials said the agency is sheltering more than 160,000 survivors, has provided 6 million meals and is operating hundreds of shelters in 23 states.
"We're getting daily reports from staff there, including three of my own, and we need to spell those folks and send in new crews. It's been taxing," he said.
The local chapter has a head start on its recruitment goal because on Saturday it trained 250 people, an astounding turnout, Mr. Yenrick said.
"Usually we're lucky to get a class of five or six people," he said, adding it's just one signal of the huge outpouring of support from the region from those wanting to help.
Those trained Saturday can be counted toward the 500-number goal, though many may not be able to go for a variety of reasons, such as not being healthy enough to travel, so Mr. Yenrick said he's trying to recruit as many people as possible to have plenty of extras.
Another signal of the community support for the Red Cross is financial.
Since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, the local Red Cross has received $534,746 for hurricane victims.
By comparison, the local chapter received $457,184 for tsunami relief over a month-long period last year.
Those wanting to volunteer for the Red Cross Hurricane Katrina relief effort should call the Toledo area's "211" human services number if they live in Lucas or Ottawa counties.
Those from outside that area should call toll free to 1-800-VOLUNTEER (865-8683).
The next scheduled training sessions for Red Cross volunteers will be 6 p.m. on Sept. 27 and Sept. 29 at the UAW Local 12 hall in Toledo.
Contact Luke Shockman at: