LUMBERTON — Robeson County’s five emergency shelters set up in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew are now being managed by Red Cross personnel, but those shelters are still under local control, county officials said at a press conference Saturday.
Frustration boiled over on Friday night during the transition, and people took to social medial to accuse the Red Cross of kicking out local volunteers and discarding donated supplies from Robeson County shelters. All that was denied by Robeson County commissioners and emergency management.
“I’d like to address the Red Cross issue,” Stephanie Chavis, director of Robeson County emergency management said. “I’m not sure where all the confusion came in, we just want everyone to know Red Cross is only here to assist. Those shelters are Robeson County shelters. Red Cross, DSS, the Health Department, all those folks are working together and it takes all those folks working together to make sure that those shelters are operational and working as the state requires them to.”
The Red Cross on Friday at 9 p.m. took over the five remaining shelters, at Red Springs, St. Pauls, Red Springs and South Robeson high schools, and Bill Sapp Recreation Center. Saturday, there were 1,125 people in the shelters, down from a peak of about 1,800.
The shelters can no longer be distribution or drop-off sites for supplies and donations, they can only work to feed and house the displaced individuals within them. All donations intended for the shelters are directed to the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center on U.S. 74. Donation of such things as ice, water, clothes, underwear, diapers and wipes are still needed.
“When we set up those shelter sites we are responsible for making sure those folks have a place to sleep and a place to eat,” Chavis said. “We are providing meals for the shelters. We have worked with other organizations to make sure those folks have meals but that’s all those shelters are for — to take care of the evacuees and to make sure they have a place to sleep and that they have food to eat. If people want to drop things off they need to be bringing them to the [agricultural center] because that is our point of distribution. We ask that you don’t take stuff to the shelters.”
There are currently 15 distribution sites coordinated by Robeson County, 14 fire stations and the agricultural center.
“What was happening was folks were coming to the shelters from out in the community to get goods, so we were running a distribution center and a shelter and we can’t do that because they can’t make sure those shelters are secure doing that,” Kellie Blue, spokesperson for Robeson County emergency management said. “That’s why folks wanting to pick up goods in these outlying communities, who are not in a shelter, are going to go to the Ag Center.”
Blue said officials are working on setting up a distribution center near Bill Sapp Recreation Center, where many residents have sought assistance on foot.
Blue strongly denied rumors that the Red Cross was throwing out donated goods, saying the only donations being discarded are those that were unusable.
“If anyone wants to take the blame for some of that being thrown away, you can give it to me,” Blue said. “I’ll take some of that because those folks, they’re not animals, they’re still humans and we have to treat them that way … We’re not going to throw away something they can use. They have nothing. We want to help these folks.”
While stepping into a management role within the shelters, there has been both praise for the Red Cross and questions asked about the numbers of staff working in Robeson County.
“I think when I see the response in other areas I see a much larger FEMA response, I see a much larger Red Cross presence. The question is why not here and that is one of the questions I will ask. It is a question I will ask the president of the Red Cross tonight,” U.S. Sen. Richard Burr said while speaking at Bill Sapp Recreation Center Friday.
Blue had nothing but praise for the Red Cross and all of the agencies that have come in to help Robeson and stressed the teamwork going on.
“Red Cross doesn’t have the staff to take over the shelters,” Blue said Saturday. “They need those folks, they need those volunteers. It’s just misconception and people get on social media and they spew it and it’s wrong information and it makes a mess.”
At shelters, several volunteers expressed concern with what they felt was the authoritarian tone of incoming Red Cross personnel. None of those volunteers were willing to share their accounts for publication.
Within the shelters there has not been great disturbance with any changes in staffing, according to several interviews conducted by The Robesonian Saturday.
“They are treating us very well, ensuring we have clothes, toiletries, and there is lots of food,” said a Mrs. Stevens of Lumberton, who had to seek shelter on Tuesday. “Everyone has been very accommodating.”
Stevens, who asked that her full name not be used, said that all the staff she had encountered at the St. Pauls shelter, and at Gilbert Carroll Middle School before that, were helping to make a rough situation bearable.
Robeson County distribution sites: Allenton Fire Department, 6815 N.C. 211 East, Lumberton; East Howellsville Fire Department, 1000 Pridgen Road, Lumberton; Lumber Bridge Fire Department, 303 W. Main St., Lumber Bridge; Pembroke Fire Department, 201 Main St., Pembroke; Prospect Fire Department, 4345 Prospect Road, Maxton; Raft Swamp Fire Department, 2809 N.C. 72 West, Lumberton; Deep Branch Fire Department, 3129 Deep Branch Road, Lumberton; Evans Crossroads Fire Department, 3440 Elrod Road, Maxton; Queheel Fire Department, 108 East Rockingham Road, Maxton; Rennert Fire Department, 9896 Rennert Road, Shannon; Saddletree Fire Department, 76 Rozier Church Road, Lumberton; Northwoods Fire Department, 344 Sherwood Road, Lumberton; Parkton Fire and Rescue, 2704 W. Parkton Tobemory Road, Parkton; and Fairmont Fire Department, 421 S. Main St., Fairmont.
The city of Lumberton is distributing water in the parking lot of Cakes and Pastries, 701 Farringdom St., as well as other sites as volunteers and supplies are available. The Farringdom Street site is an ongoing distribution point.
Reach Mike Gellatly at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MikeGellatly