MIDDLETOWN — The Aquidneck Island Emergency Volunteer Alliance is in need of help.
With Hurricane Harvey wreaking havoc on Houston last week and Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida this weekend, Emergency Volunteer Alliance Coordinator Carmela Geer said the major storms are reminders of how quickly emergency situations can arise.
Geer said there is a large need for volunteers to staff the regional Red Cross emergency shelter at Gaudet Middle School in Middletown. Currently, there are about 30 volunteers to run the shelter, but Geer said another 35 would be required to keep it open for an extended amount of time.
“I’ve never seen a weather scenario like this before,” Geer said. “First, you have what’s happening in Houston and our hearts go out to all of those people and now Irma and Jose right behind her. It’s kind of crazy and it’s all hands on deck.”
If a major storm hits Aquidneck Island, Geer said the shelter would remain open as long as would be necessary, but more volunteers would make that task easier.
The last time Gaudet was opened as a shelter was during a snowstorm in February 2013. The Emergency Volunteer Alliance was on standby during a snowstorm in March 2017, but the shelter did not open.
“We’re prepared for whatever comes our way, no matter what,” Geer said. “That’s not what this is about. Like they say, it’s better to be prepared and not need it than to need it and not be prepared.”
But Geer said volunteering for the Emergency Volunteer Alliance isn’t only about staffing the Gaudet shelter, which is available at no charge for all people on Aquidneck Island.
She listed countless activities where volunteers could be needed, including clean water distribution, disaster cleanup, snow removal and other efforts.
The group was formed in the summer of 2014 after area fire chiefs and emergency responders spoke of a need to better coordinate volunteers in disaster situations. Geer has served as the head of the nonprofit organization since its inception.
Geer said volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks, including lifting heavy objects like cots, working reception desks, preparing and serving food, as well as helping those seeking shelter during a difficult time. All volunteers are subject to background checks.
“We’ll take anyone who brings a positive attitude and a willingness to work,” Geer said. “There’s really a job for everybody and it’s the best feeling you can ever do, the feeling you get coming away from serving. If you can only give three hours, we’ll take three hours.”
Volunteer Trudy Duval of Middletown said she first got involved with the Emergency Volunteer Alliance a couple years ago and feels good about her contributions to the group.
“When I was younger, my father and mother were always helping and it made me realize how important it was to give back,” Duval said. “Sometimes, people are desperate for help and have nowhere to turn, and it’s nice to know there’s someone who’s there to help,” Duval said. “Volunteering, if you can, is what it’s all about.”
Geer said the Emergency Volunteer Alliance has been closely monitoring Hurricane Irma and other storms on its heels. And although she hopes major storms will avoid the Ocean State, she said it’s never too early to be ready.
“We’ve always had a lot of support here on the island, but people get new jobs, move out of the area or have new commitments,” Geer said. “It makes sense. Life happens. Hopefully, people get the message we need a hand.”