Relief Effort Gains in Charleston

Volunteers pull together to distribute food and clothing to victims of hurricane Hugo. HURRICANE HUGO

A STREAM of trucks crammed with post-hurricane aid rumble daily into Charleston. They are evidence of the good efforts of many Americans at a time when uncounted thousands of Carolinians still depend on their help. Across America thousands of volunteers have been collecting nonperishable food, bedding, clothing, and other items and shipping it all by truck to the Carolinas.

Jason Thompson and John Miller are part of this effort. Eleven-year-old Jason and 12-year-old John are members of Boy Scout Troop 277, in Ponte Verde, Fla. The scouts and their parents collected food and other items in their community. Parents drove the contributions to Charleston; Jason and John came and helped unload at Charleston's Gaillard Auditorium, one of five storage warehouses that are at the core of the free-food distribution effort.

A few feet from where Jason and John are working, adult volunteers and national guardsmen are emptying two 40-ton trucks. Out of one come hundreds of cases of apples, donated by A&O orchards of Mt. Pleasant Mills, Pa.

From the second truck come boxes of mixed contents: canned vegetables and soups, disposable diapers, fresh pineapples, and other items collected by the police department of Northport, Ala. Around the corner another half dozen tractor-trailer trucks wait to unload.

The yellow-brick Gaillard Auditorium is normally used for cultural performances. But now it is one of the five warehouses where food and other donations are unloaded, stored, and sorted. Then they are put into private vehicles or Army trucks to be delivered to the many free-food centers in the area.

These warehouses are now sending an increasing amount of supplies to outlying rural communities. Their needs became more apparent this week with most country roads finally open and rural residents' needs better assessed.

Volunteers say that the greatest demands are for food and paper products, and especially diapers. Although the motive for giving used clothes is also appreciated, these items are much less helpful. ``We don't have much call for them,'' one local relief worker says privately. Indeed, few clothes are examined and fewer still are taken by people who wait in the distribution lines.

But the biggest problem with clothing is logistical. It takes an enormous amount of time, space, and manpower to separate mountains of clothing by category and size. It is a task beyond the ability of large relief efforts. For this reason the Red Cross repeatedly urges concerned people to donate funds instead of clothing to disaster victims.

Some churches, however, like the Bethlehem United Methodist Church on St. John's Island, do effectively distribute clothing, perhaps in part because they receive smaller amounts.

No one knows how long the demand for large quantities of food will last.

Some volunteers involved in this city's distribution network suspect that it may continue for months, if a substantial number of jobs prove to have been blown away by the hurricane. They are concerned that the need may last beyond the public's interest in meeting it.

Meanwhile, the short-term requirements remain heavy. One recent day, the food-relief station in the parking lot of the Charleston Shopping Center helped 2,000 people; by 3:00 p.m. the next afternoon it had aided 3,500.

Gaillard Auditorium provides some food directly to the public, as well as shipping food to distribution centers. An estimated 1,000 people picked up canned goods and other items at Gaillard one recent day, and 1,200 the next.

The good-humored nature of National Guard Sgt. Michael Robinson helped keep the auditorium line orderly. But it moved at a ``hurry up and wait'' pace any Army veteran would recognize. At midmorning the second day, the wait was an hour and a half and the line was lengthening.

Sergeant Robinson could vouch that most people in line truly are in need; but some, he added ruefully, are not.

``I'm a Charlestonian, too,'' said Robinson, in civilian life an employee of a battery-manufacturing company. ``I know most of these people that come through these lines; many of them are from the housing projects from the East Side. ...

``Most of them didn't have much before the storm came, and it took away what little they did have. ... There's some here that have good jobs and they don't need to be here, but I guess they view it as a giveaway.''

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