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Social service workers can't catch a break

For those who work for nonprofit social service agencies in Hernando County, responding to back- to-back-to-back hurricanes can take a toll. The names of four hurricanes sometimes just roll into one.

"What's this one?" said an exhausted Capt. Chris Nicholls, head of the Salvation Army, referring to Jeanne. His brow was furrowed and he was obviously toiling on sleep deprivation.

From Charley to Frances to Ivan and Jeanne within a month, it has been difficult for agencies to keep up and sort out. Nicholls was in Punta Gorda and Polk County after Hurricane Charley, handled relief efforts in Hernando after Frances and headed for the Panhandle after Ivan. Staffers had to return in a hurry when Jeanne pummeled their home base.

"It's all been running together," said Nicholls of his staff and volunteers with the Salvation Army's Hernando unit, "who are a little weary."

After schools reopened Tuesday, the only Red Cross public shelter still open in the area was at First United Methodist Church of Brooksville, 109 S Broad Street. It accommodated about 15 evacuees, said Red Cross spokeswoman Shelley Szafraniec from her Daytona Beach headquarters.

People came mainly for meals, she said, then went off to overnight with relatives or friends, she said.

By Wednesday, that shelter was converted to a comfort station, which was then closed as the need diminished, Szafraniec said.

The Salvation Army also staged a mobile feeding unit in Ridge Manor, serving about 800 hot meals there Tuesday, Nicholls said. It served more than 500 meals Tuesday at its headquarters' fellowship hall, 15464 Cortez Boulevard, Brooksville.

The organization plans to continue providing free lunches and suppers at its headquarters "as long as it's needed," said Nicholls, who predicted the Ridge Manor canteen will serve meals into the middle of next week.

At the Cortez headquarters Wednesday, the agency also had 60,000 pounds each of ice and water, plus personal hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, washcloths and combs.

"We base our services on victims, but we're also serving emergency and power workers," Nicholls said.

The United Way of Hernando County also has chipped in to boost relief efforts.

"Right now, we're working with Bank of America at its New Port Richey office, (providing) ice and water," said executive director Valerie Hunt. The office serves Hernando and Pasco counties, she said.

Even businesses were stepping forward. Publix supermarkets asked customers to donate to hurricane relief efforts by adding a donation to United Way via their grocery tally. Hunt had no report on that effort as of Wednesday.

The Hernando office of United Way is accepting and distributing food and water donations from its office, 4040 Commercial Way, Spring Hill, Hunt said.

Last week, the Humane Society of Hernando County stocked a Lee's Local & Long Distance Moving truck with donations of dog food, leashes, cat food and lots of pet first aid supplies for pet owners in the Panhandle hammered by Hurricane Ivan.

On Saturday, Lee and Bobbie Williston, owners of Lee's, drove the donations to the Fort Walton Beach Humane Society and returned to Hernando just in time to greet Hurricane Jeanne, said Joanne Scoch, executive director of the Humane Society of Hernando County.

However, the organization has been unable to board the pets of local evacuees.

"We're full," Scoch said."Anybody I know with a pet, as long as they have a carrier, they are welcome in my home. I know there are a limited number of places they can go."

Staffers, board members and volunteers with the society also are taking in pets, she said. With a bit of shudder in her voice, Scoch added, "Reptiles better be confined real well."

To volunteer with recovery efforts:

+ The Salvation Army, needing people to hand out ice, water and meals, preparing food, staffing its mobile kitchen, providing maintenance, can be reached at 796-1186; ask for Ester.

+ To donate for hurricane relief through United Way, call 688-2026.

+ To assist the humane society with pet care or adoption, call the shelter at 796-2711.