But the organization’s Northwest Georgia chapter has seen its focus turn more to localized efforts this year as increased assistance has been needed for families within the group’s 10-county area.
“It’s been a very different year compared to last year,” said Sharman Turner, the chapter’s volunteer coordinator.
In 2011, when tornadoes ripped through Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., and Hurricane Irene stormed up the east coast, the local chapter sent relief teams to the affected areas.
So far this year the group has spent more time helping support those closer to the cities and communities they live in, mostly because of what they call “solid” disasters — those that may not always be newsworthy but still leave victims in their wake.
The Northwest Georgia group serves Floyd, Bartow, Polk, Chattooga, Gordon, Walker, Catoosa, Whitfield, Murray and Dade counties and has helped more than 70 families since May affected by house fires.
“Normally we see house fire numbers go down during the summer months,” chapter Executive Director Jeffrey Putnam said. “This year that has not been the case.”
June saw the Northwest Georgia chapter provide assistance to 18 single-family disasters, while that total jumped to 26 in July.
“It does feel good to the heart to be able to help people that you see everyday,” Putnam said.
A problem they are dealing with as a result of this change, according to Putnam, is the need for more volunteers.
“As the economy has gotten worse, volunteerism is down,” he said. “We’re having to do more with less and mold those volunteers we have to be active in responding to other parts of the region and not just the county they reside.”
An example of such need came less than two weeks ago when the organization responded to the recycling complex fire in Summerville where an evacuation zone was set up around the blaze.
Two mobile shelters were set up and volunteers from Chattooga, Floyd, Bartow and other counties joined in the response.
The situation provided a chance for the chapter’s emergency services program manager, Sarah Egan, to see the benefit of sending volunteers to other parts of the country when the time arises.
“When volunteers are sent to different places they come back with better knowledge of what to do when major disasters occur here,” Egan said, adding that the group was unsure they could open the pair of shelters in Summerville.
“It’s not that we couldn’t do it. It was just that we never had to,” Egan said. “But we had experienced volunteers who had responded to other incidents. They are helping us become a better chapter.”