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Some Quake Aid Off Needed List : Red Cross Stops Taking Food, Clothing, Medical Supplies

Times Staff Writer

The generosity of Americans toward earthquake victims in Mexico has been so overwhelming that one major disaster-relief organization--the American Red Cross--stopped taking donations of food, clothing and medical supplies Monday.

Most other groups are still accepting contributions, but some, such as the Salvation Army, have significantly whittled down the list of most-needed supplies.

And some organizations, such as Catholic Relief Services, which has been swamped by truckloads of clothes, say it may be three weeks to two months before they are able to sort out the donations and ship them to Mexico.

Doris Unger, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in San Diego and Imperial counties, received word late Monday afternoon from Red Cross headquarters in Washington that because of the tremendous outpouring of help from within Mexico, the United States and other countries, Red Cross chapters will no longer accept contributions of clothing, food and medicine.

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Contributions of money, however, are still being taken by the Red Cross and, for that matter, by all other relief groups. Relief officials say such donations should be specifically earmarked for Mexican earthquake assistance.

“We’ve received more than 450 telephones calls to our answering service,” Unger said, adding that the high volume of calls in San Diego has been repeated at Red Cross chapters nationwide.

The outpouring of generosity has touched just about every relief agency in the city.

“The whole town is concerned about it,” explained Jim Puccetti, director of operations for Project Concern International of San Diego. “I think it (public interest) will remain high because it’s a major issue in the media and events are still unfolding. I’ve found, historically, that the response is much greater if an event like this happens in our hemisphere.”

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Puccetti’s group, whose primary focus is providing health care in the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora, has sent Dr. Rene Salgado, a physician who works for the organization in Mexico, to the disaster areas to evaluate the situation.

The doctor’s priority, according to Puccetti, will be gauging the earthquake’s effects in the rural areas surrounding Mexico City, as well as coordinating with local authorities to find out “in what way we can provide assistance.”

Puccetti, who was involved in relief efforts when devastating temblors struck Nicaragua in 1972 and Guatemala in 1976, expects public interest in the Mexican quake to remain active for several months, particularly if it becomes difficult to find housing for those displaced by the quake.

Charles Hansen, spokesman for the Salvation Army in San Diego County, said his group is still accepting donations but that its list of needed supplies is now down to priority items.

Relying on information passed on from Salvation Army officials in Mexico City, who, in Hansen’s words, “are right there on the front lines,” the San Diego chapter is looking for donations of flashlights, work gloves, hard hats, plastic containers for drinking water, tents, sleeping bags, blankets and hacksaws.

“We’ve received tremendous help. I have been on the phone constantly with people who are calling, looking to donate things,” Hansen said. “These have run the gamut from people offering practical things like cots, bandages and medicine . . . to well-intentioned garage-sale types who want to clear things out.”

Hansen said that on a national basis, last weekend a Boeing 727 chartered by the Salvation Army in San Francisco carried eight tons of medical supplies, food, clothing, blankets, sleeping bags and 49 doctors, nurses, engineers and medical support personnel to Mexico City.

Father Joe Carroll, head of Catholic Relief Services and St. Vincent de Paul Center in San Diego, said his office has been swamped by truckloads of clothes, to the point that he is now seeking volunteers to help sort out the garments.

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Most of the clothes, which were donated at St. Vincent de Paul headquarters at the corner of 16th and Market streets, have ended up at St. Rita’s Church at 5124 Churchward St. Schoolchildren have sorted them during the day, but volunteers are needed after 4 p.m., Carroll said.

“It’s no good to send them unsorted because if someone needs a pair of pants and can’t find them, what’s the use. It’s going to take us weeks to ship this out.” Carroll said.

Catholic Relief Services is still looking for donations of blankets, clothes and money. So far, Carroll said, his organization has raised more than $5,000, part of which will be used to buy food in bulk.

Another agency being inundated by contributions is SHARE, a San Diego program of St. Vincent de Paul. Peter Meisen, a SHARE spokesman, says donations of clothes, blankets and non-perishable food have been so overwhelming that he expects to fill the five to six semi-trailers donated by an Ensenada trucking official.

Meisen doesn’t know when the trucks will leave San Diego because his group hasn’t received clearances from Mexican officials. “We want to make sure we do what they want,” he said.


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