New Mexico Helps Organize Katrina Relief Efforts

By McCracken, Betina | Policy & Practice, December 2005 | Go to article overview

New Mexico Helps Organize Katrina Relief Efforts


McCracken, Betina, Policy & Practice


Like most of the country, New Mexicans watched with apprehension the developments of Hurricane Katrina as it approached the Gulf Coast in late August. Little did we know that once it hit Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, our lives at the Human Services Department (HSD) would change.

As soon as the effect of the hurricane was known, New Mexicans began donating immediately. The Children, Youth and Families Department began accepting donations of diapers and non-perishable forms of baby formula and baby food. Gov. Bill Richardson's office was bombarded with phone calls from citizens wanting to donate everything from their time as health professionals, to money, clothes, homes and even land for hurricane victims. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish collected cash donations from state employees wishing to donate to the American Red Cross. Richardson asked the Human Services Department to help with the state's hurricane relief resources.

The HSD's responsibility was to set up a toll-free line to help New Mexicans who wanted to help but didn't know where to go. The Hurricane Relief Hotline and an e-mail address allowed citizens to call in or e-mail their questions to find out where they could drop off donations such as diapers, toys, water, food and much more, and make sure that they got to those who needed them.

HSD staff members who volunteered over the Labor Day weekend were assigned to answer the hotline. Groups of four staffed the hotline in four-hour shifts. While the hotline is still active, we now only have one employee answering the calls. We have received almost 2,000 calls and 500 e-mails as of mid-October.

HSD designed and produced the NMHELPS web site, www.nmhelps. state.nm.us. Here people could log on and find out where to send donations, or how to volunteer to help the hurricane victims. It also became an important tool as evacuees began arriving in New Mexico.

The first group of evacuees arrived in Albuquerque on September 4 during the Labor Day weekend. That didn't stop or concern state employees, including the governor, who issued an emergency declaration to help the evacuees, or HSD Secretary Pamela Hyde, who was busy staffing the Hurricane Relief Hotline.

At the Albuquerque Convention Center, where the 93 evacuees were being housed, the state worked with city and federal partners to set up a one-stop shop. …

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