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Helping Katrina Victims 'Life-Changing' For N.C. Red Cross Volunteers

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GULFPORT, MISS. — Randell Griffin and Frank Conner are a long way from Rocky Mount, N.C., but they are serving up Tar Heel hospitality to Hurricane Katrina evacuees at an American Red Cross Shelter in Gulfport, Miss.

"It's sad, very sad," says Griffin, a volunteer with the Rocky Mount chapter of the Red Cross. "These people are going through a lot. We can't imagine what they're going through."

Conner, also a volunteer from the Rocky Mount chapter, is the assistant manager of a shelter at an elementary school in Gulfport -- one of 18 shelters housing more than 1,500 residents in a five-county area around Gulfport.

"We have our moments," he says. "Anyone who can come down here and not cry, I can't imagine it."

There are nearly 500 Red Cross volunteers from North Carolina working to help Katrina victims along the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross says it has seen its biggest volunteer turnout ever in the aftermath of the disaster; well over 100,000 volunteers are involved. Many are first-time volunteers who took crash courses in disaster relief and were immediately sent to the Gulf Coast because their help is so desperately needed.

Gulfport native Will Frith lost everything in the storm. He has no family to help him, but says Griffin and Conner have been like family to him.

"I think these are some of the nicest people I've ever met," Frith said. "They have been very kind to us. They have bent over backward to help us in any way they could."

Volunteers from North Carolina who work for the state, like Keith Acree, get an added bonus -- the state allows them to work for the Red Cross during a disaster for two weeks with pay.

Acree works for the North Carolina Department of Correction, but has been in Mississippi volunteering with the Red Cross.

"Other volunteers have asked me about that on the job and they're stunned to learn that the state offers that because many other states don't," Acree said. "I'm glad to have it and to be able to put it to good use."

For Griffin and Conner, the experience has been life-changing.

"We sometimes forget that there are still a lot of good people in the world," Griffin said. "We overlook the good people sometimes. It's just a moving experience."


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