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National Guard, Red Cross Seek Donations, Volunteers

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

FORT DIX, N.J., June 3, 1999 – Thanks to the New Jersey National Guard and the American Red Cross, warehouses at this Army Reserve post south of Trenton are filled to the rafters with goods donated to help ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo.

Since the first plane carrying nearly 450 Kosovars arrived May 5 at nearby McGuire Air Force Base, the population in the refugee center here, known as The Village, has grown to more than 4,000. Most arrived carrying little in the way of personal belongings.

New Jersey citizens and businesses responded to the refugees' plight with more than $1.4 million in food, new and used clothing and other basic supplies. To date, Guard members have collected more than 600 tons from collection points throughout the state.

About 96 Guard members are involved in the relief effort that began April 30, Guard spokesman Lt. Col. John Dwyer said. All volunteered for duty in the program, which has cost the Guard more $100,000 in annual training funds to get up and running, he noted.

New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman offered the Guard's help as soon as she learned the former Army basic training post would be a safe haven for up to 20,000 refugees, Dwyer said. The Red Cross and the Guard spread the appeal for help using the state's emergency response network, and donations began pouring in, he said. At one collection center, Guard members received up to one ton per hour, he noted.

Guard members here inspect, sort and store arriving goods in staging warehouses. From there, they distribute the baseball caps, shoes, sweatshirts, sneakers, suitcases, books, videos and other items in free "country stores" set up in refugee dormitories.

At present, the storage capacity for used goods is filled to the brim, Dwyer noted. However, the Guard continues to accept new items from corporate and private donors. There is a particular need for women's underwear, men's shoes, sneakers for all ages, and strollers, he noted.

Those wishing to donate items should contact the New Jersey National Guard Emergency Operations Center at 609-562-0800. The Guard plans to continue collecting goods as long as necessary, Dwyer said. "We're in this for the long run," he said.

Although the Red Cross is no longer accepting used items, cash donations can be sent to:

The American Red Cross International Response Fund P.O. Box 37243 Washington, DC 20013.

Donors can also call 1-800-HELP-NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Internet users can make a secure online credit card contribution at www.redcross.org, choosing "International Defense Fund" as their option of giving.

Whitman and the Red Cross also asked corporate America for help. Local and national businesses responded with clothes, toys, a tractor trailer of laundry detergent, cases of fruit and other foods, and more. Two ice cream companies sponsored parties in The Village.

When two young refugees announced plans to marry, the American Red Cross received two wedding bands donated by a jewelry company in Cherry Hill, N.J. The couple exchanged vows May 23 in the post chapel.

The Red Cross continues to accept donations from corporations, said Glenn Lockwood, Red Cross director of disaster services at Fort Dix.

"We are working with corporations making donations that can deal with the entire populace," he said. "We've had some wonderful offers, but unfortunately their size means some would go without. When we give something, it has to be across the board. Most corporations understand that very well."

Along with soliciting donations, Red Cross officials and volunteers have distributed to refugees nearly 180,000 snacks and 3,000 comfort kits containing toiletries. They help refugees obtain medical care and trace family members. Two-person Red Cross volunteer teams are assigned to dormitory play rooms where they provide games and conduct activities for refugee children up to age 12.

Red Cross interpreters work in every aspect of the relief effort. From the time refugees arrive until they leave to join sponsors, interpreters are available to help smooth the way. "They're in The Village. They're caretakers," said Amy Gavin, Red Cross administrative director. "They may be in the clinic working [to help allay] fears people are having about the clinic process."

The Red Cross seeks volunteers fluent in Albanian, preferably as Kosovars speak it, to bolster its three interpreters at Fort Dix. Volunteers should contact their local Red Cross chapters. A commitment of two to three weeks is needed and processing can be done quickly, Gavin said.

The Red Cross is also seeking volunteers to help provide nursing care, clerical duties, warehousing and other skills.

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