Red Cross responds to local disaster victim

Published 11:59 pm Friday, October 2, 2009

On Tues., Sept. 8, Dorothy James lost her home and almost everything she owned in a house fire. But before the evening was even through, she already knew she had support from the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

“(Executive director Merrill Davis) was on the scene that night,” said James, who lived on Racetrack Road in Florala. “He was consoling me during the night and told me to come up to Andalusia the next morning and he’d help me out.”

James said she went to the Red Cross office the following morning and Davis gave her three vouchers to local thrift shops, as well as other assistance, and told her to not hesitate to let him know if the Red Cross could help in any other way.

“He was one of the first ones there that night,” she said. “He even called us back late, after everyone else had left the scene, just to show concern that we were stable and were OK.”

The Covington County chapter of the American Red Cross is one of the many organizations that receive financial assistance through the Covington County United Fund. Davis said most of the CCUF money goes directly toward helping people like James.

“Fire disaster response is one of our biggest missions,” he said. “In the past, we’ve also helped people who were displaced by flooding. Our biggest thing is to make sure disaster victims have a place to stay, when they lose their home.”

“We believe it’s a county chapter and should belong to the people of Covington County.”

James said the house was built in 1960 and fire officials explained to her it may have been caused from too much build-up in her dryer’s lint trap. She said she was lucky in two ways — first, none of her family was hurt in the fire, and secondly, she quickly found a new place to stay.

“We’re living in a house my parents left to me when they died,” she said.

James shared the house with her daughter, Correta James; granddaughter, 9-year-old Jakiyah Griffin; and a friend, Malcolm Skanes. Although no people were hurt in the disaster, the family did lose a beloved pet dog.

“(Jakiyah) cried about the dog for a long time,” James said. “He was such a good little dog. But the Red Cross was there to help her, too. They gave her a little Mickey Mouse doll to help cheer her up.”

James said the Red Cross chapter was far from the only group that offered her assistance. In fact, she said one of the first families to help her out were Donnie and Gwen Kimbro — who had lost their own home in a fire the previous Thursday.

“That was amazing,” James said. “They were there right away and even though they had just lost everything themselves, they were one of the first to put some money in my pocket. It just shows what wonderful people we have in this community.”

She also expressed thanks the support of her church family at St. Matthew’s AME Church, stating “I couldn’t have gotten through this without God.” She added that many other churches besides her own had also already offered help to her family.

“We’re working through it as best we can,” she said. “Everyone has been so helpful, including Merrill and the people at the Red Cross.”

Davis thanked Lorene Thompson with the Florala EMS for first notifying the Red Cross of the fire, and pointed out the Red Cross would not be able to complete its mission without the help of people like Thompson, who keep the chapter informed.

Some of the other missions of the local Red Cross chapter include blood drives, opening shelters in times of disasters and offering community training classes, like CPR, first aid and babysitting.

James added that she had even spent time volunteering for the Red Cross in the past.

“Sometimes, the good that goes around, comes around,” she said. “I love to help them, and I’m so happy they were there to help me.”