Flooding that left some Pinal County residents without food and shelter last summer has prompted local officials to form a volunteer group to help deal with future disasters.
But finding volunteers is proving to be a challenge despite the growing population, according to Pinal County officials and volunteer organization representatives.
Officials are trying to build interest in Volunteers Active in Disasters of Pinal County, which has had a handful of meetings since last summer, the latest on Friday.
Forming the group, which serves as an umbrella organization to unite social service agencies and volunteers during a time of crisis, is critical, said Anthony Cox, voluntary agency liaison with the Arizona Department of Emergency Management and Military Affairs.
“Numerous disasters occur in Arizona,” he said. “Very few of these ever become eligible for direct financial assistance.”
Cox said the problem is further complicated by the number of residents who are uninsured or under insured. “Often times there are survivors in these situations with unmet needs in their recovery,” he said.
That’s where organized volunteers come in, but getting people to volunteer is a countywide issue.
“I don’t want to make it seem like it’s impossible, but I think we do have problems,” said Bill Ludeke, executive director of United Way of Pinal County, who is involved with the county volunteer group.
The same “trusty few” volunteer, but with the size of the county — roughly the size of Connecticut — and the large number of people with long commutes, the potential volunteer base is diminished, he said.
A lack of volunteers “has always been an issue, but now it’s even more so because with more people in community, there’s just plain more things that need to be done,” Ludeke said.
Pinal County lacks a one-stop shop for volunteers looking for opportunities in their community, which Maricopa and Pima counties already have in place, he said.
Cox said membership outreach is important as the volunteer group gets started.
“You need to look and see who’s not around this table,” Cox said at the meeting Friday. “You need to invite them.”