It seems we are poised to take on as many as 300 new neighbors at any given time.
No, it's not some new subdivision – as if we don't have enough of those.
It's the St. Matthew Disaster Shelter. The American Red Cross has partnered with St. Matthew Catholic Church to open portions of the church's Ballantyne Commons Parkway campus as temporary shelter in the event of a large-scale disaster.
The Red Cross has started a program of Faith Partners. They look for churches in strategic parts of the city to participate. Currently they have three more churches that have either completed the training program or are in the process of getting on board: Victory Christian Center, Levine Jewish Community Center and Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
Last weekend volunteer parishioners of St. Matthew went through a practice drill with a team of Red Cross employees. With the drill as the final phase of the training process, they are now good to go.
The shelter representative, Debbie Kane, is responsible for spearheading the St. Matthew group of more than 100 volunteers.
Kane tells me she had previously volunteered to help a parish in the eastern part of the state that was affected by a hurricane. So it was no surprise when Monsignor McSweeney approached her to head this latest mission.
What constitutes a large-scale disaster? Think 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina, whether nationally or locally. A portion of Saint Matthew's buildings and its host of volunteers will be ready to handle the myriad of things that go into helping those in need.
That list is quite lengthy – from the initial “phone tree” alerting all volunteers, to dormitory management, feeding, health services, registration, recreation, security – and that's just some of the stations that get staffed.
Kane tells me that they've been working on this for about 12 months, with the hardest part being the coordination training. From classroom hours to the actual drill, it was quite difficult getting around everyone's schedules.
The drill lasted for more than five hours, as volunteers went through the entire process from setting up cots and registration, to handling situations that included a child with chicken pox to clients who were intoxicated.
Kane also tells me that they will have provisions for pets. “If there was one lesson that was learned from Katrina, it was that people need to have their pets,” she says.
“The animal shelter would come and a room would be provided that would be used to house the animals,” she says. The pets would be crated and located far enough away to avoid disturbing residents with allergies or asthma.
Kane adds, “The goal of the St. Matthew Disaster Shelter is to reach out to our neighbors no matter where they are, and of utmost importance is to treat the residents with respect.”
Hmm, that's something we should all do regardless of the circumstance.