|SMOC to lead evacuee relief||Friday, September 9, 2005|
|Theresa Freeman 508-626-3919||Metrowest Daily News|
ASHLAND -- With hundreds of calls with offers to help hurricane evacuees
coming in, Nadine Heaps needs help.
Heaps has merged a grassroots volunteer and donations drive with social service agency South Middlesex Opportunity Council. She and husband, Warren, for a week have worked to connect families affected by Hurricane Katrina with new homes in the state.
Nadine Heaps is due to meet this morning at Ashland Town Hall with Jim Cuddy, SMOC's executive director. "It's kind of a natural step for us," said Cuddy. "We're glad to play our part."
The Heapses have welcomed into an apartment Paula Russell and her fiance, Kirk Woods, of New Orleans, who will live there rent-free until they can get on their feet. They arrived Sunday, and three more families are on their way to the state, Heaps said.
"All we need is one town to take in one family every week, and no one will be left out," Heaps said. "We can do it. Come on America."
Sparked by reports of Russell and Woods' relocation, residents and businesses have been flooding the Heapses with offers of housing, furnishings, clothing, job prospects and donations of money. Their home and business phone lines are filled to capacity with voice mail messages.
Now, SMOC will take on the massive effort of returning messages, storing donated items and matching up evacuees with resources they need. They will help connect evacuees moving to MetroWest with "anything you can imagine," said Cuddy.
"Nadine has started this incredible volunteer effort," said Cuddy. "We want her to remain involved."
SMOC is taking on the coordination effort in addition to its existing work, Cuddy said.
"Volunteer help would certainly be great," said Cuddy. "The staff always pitches in when a crisis happens. They always go the extra step."
Cuddy said he is not yet sure what role the government will play in helping evacuees find new homes. Today's discussions will begin to map out who will coordinate and pursue which resources.
"Frequently in emergency situations you need to work things out on the fly," said Cuddy. "You can't just let things sit."
SMOC's help is greatly needed, Heaps said, because her plate was already full with family commitments, her company Purple Ink Insurance and being president of the Ashland Business Association.
"They (SMOC) are the ones who can handle this," said Heaps. "We just don't have the setup."
The Heapses and Woods watched the New England Patriots' season opener last night, with Woods treated to a ticket from the Patriots organization. Other families are headed to the state from Shout Out USA, a makeshift shelter in Baton Rouge, La., where Russell and Woods were staying.
Last night, single mom Chanda Glenn of New Orleans was due to arrive on a flight with son Devin, 9, said Patricia Embree. She will stay with an Ashland family until her three other children, aged 14, 12 and 5, arrive on separate flights, she said.
"Everyone is doing something to help," said Embree, Ashland Business Association co-secretary.
Greg and Vanessa Hughes and their 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son last night were en route, driving from New Orleans to a waiting furnished two-bedroom townhouse in Plainville. They have jobs with benefits waiting for them at a restaurant that declined to be named.
Kentral Watson, his wife, and seven children are headed for a home in Allston. Business owner Jerry Quinn welcomed the Watsons to stay in a house he owns for free until they can get settled, and he bought some new clothes for them, Heaps said.
"There's a lot more matches that need to happen," said Heaps.
SMOC has come under fire recently in its attempts to turn a former Framingham nursing home into temporary housing for recovering drug addicts. But, the Heapses said they are glad there was a social service agency nearby to turn to for help.
"We're thankful that we have such an agency, with those kind of resources, that we can turn to, right here in our own backyard," said Heaps.
The town is leading the nation in hurricane relief efforts, Town Manager John Petrin said during Wednesday night's selectmen's meeting. The state was one of the first to take in evacuees.
He also noted last weekend A-Body Shop owner Larry Isaacs organized a food and water drive, filling three tractor-trailer trucks with the help of Tri State Truck Repair owner Kevin Holmes of Southborough and the Ashland Police and Fire departments.
For more information on donations, call at SMOC 508-620-2300 or visit http://www.ashlandbusinessassociation.com or http://www.ashlandemergencyfund.org/katrina.htm
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