OTTUMWA — The sound of the telephone ringing is evidence to Julie Smithart that residents of Wapello County do care.
The tornado damage to lives and property in Oklahoma has brought out the best in people, said Smithart, an AmeriCorps volunteer assigned to the Ottumwa office of the American Red Cross.
"I've been getting all sorts of phone calls today. Basically, they're asking what they can do, how to go about volunteering or donating," Smithart said.
The Ottumwa chapter's disaster team hasn't been dispatched to the area — yet.
"At this time, Red Cross teams in Oklahoma are assessing the situation," said Kara Kelly, an Iowa-based spokesperson for the Red Cross. "Once that assessment is complete, we'll know more about what the need is and if volunteers and the emergency response vehicles from the Iowa region are needed."
That makes sense to Smithart. Each extra person arriving on scene needs resources like food, water and shelter, all of which may be in short supply. So only necessary personnel will be sent.
There are ways Wapello County and other area residents can help, Smithart said. It may not sound as exciting, but the easiest thing to do is give money by going online to Redcross.org or calling 800-RED-CROSS. The disaster relief volunteers, despite the big red cross on the side of their truck, do not get free gas on the way to an emergency. While businesses are generous, there may be a need to purchase paper plates for a shelter or other things that aren't donated. The agency will often purchase things the average person may not think of as urgent — toiletries or cleaning supplies like bleach.
Trying to transport batches of clothing, when that may not be the priority, is better left for other agencies. Smithart has referred those with clothing to give to Goodwill or Salvation Army.
"[Money] not only travels easier but helps us to provide them with supplies when we get there," she said. "Not only are we providing food, shelter, drinks for [victims], we're also providing food and drink for the first responders."
The Oklahoma area does have Red Cross workers. And Tuesday morning, there were about 30 emergency response vehicles heading to the area from across the nation. As for what they'll need next, agency officials say, they plan to wait and see.
To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.