The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday December 2nd

Chapel Hill Parks Department now housing Red Cross volunteers

Hurricane Florence has passed, but some in the Chapel Hill community are still feeling its effects — and the Red Cross is sticking around.

Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation has converted the Chapel Hill Community Center as a living quarters for the Red Cross staff.

The American Red Cross continues to operate out of UNC's Friday Center, where the organization has a shelter for refugees of Hurricane Florence. The shelter opened Sept. 15 and housed 64 refugees as of Monday morning.  

Marc Jorgensen, the North Louisiana disaster program manager for the American Red Cross, helped to convert the Friday Center into a safe haven for hundreds of refugees. The consolidation center was opened to condense several smaller hurricane shelters in the surrounding counties into one larger facility.

The shelter had a hectic first night managing four busloads of hurricane refugees.

“At a normal shelter you get people coming in in ones and twos and threes and fours, but when you get busloads of a hundred at a time, and everything like that, all trying to come in at the same time at one o’clock or two o’clock in the morning, it can be kind of crazy,” said Jorgensen, who's currently serving as the night shift supervisor for the Friday Center shelter.  

Jorgensen said his team admitted 166 refugees by the end of the first night. Within the first week, the shelter's occupancy swelled to its maximum of 486 refugees. 

Jorgensen said the Friday Center was initially set up to accommodate around 300 people, but thanks to cooperation and understanding from UNC officials, the Red Cross was allowed to expand as needed. 

Many were bussed in from other shelters and had no means of returning home on their own volition, according to Jorgensen. 

“A lot of them that have been bussed here and everything like that here," Jorgensen said. "They’re kind of a little bit handicapped by where they can go because they don’t have transportation."

Others in the community have stepped up to welcome the shelter's residents and to assist the Red Cross in their current efforts. Many locals have registered as “event based volunteers” in a program that the Red Cross offers to allow for concerned citizens in an area afflicted by a disaster to quickly join the relief effort. 

The kindness has not gone unnoticed. Joel Olavarria, who came from Indiana to serve as a volunteer truck driver, expressed his appreciation for his friendly reception. 

“I love North Carolina," Olavarria said. "First time I’ve been here and (there's) so much hospitality.”

The refugees have also been grateful towards Chapel Hill. Many of the remaining 64 are from areas of the state that experienced the most severe flooding and were unfamiliar with Chapel Hill before they evacuated.  

James Franklin of Jones County was a refugee at the center. He said he is anxious to see the damage to his home, and he appreciated his reception in Chapel Hill. 

“They treat you nice," Franklin said. "They give you three meals a day.”  

To learn more about registering as a volunteer, click here.

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