SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CBS13) – As Hurricane Irma threatens millions in Florida, the non-emergency center in Tampa has been shut down. Now, those calls are being directed to a call center at Goodwill in Sacramento.
“Now they're starting to think maybe staying was not such a great idea,” said Evelynne Drinker, one of the volunteers.
Many of the people calling are asking about food, shelter, and transportation. Drinker says some are still in their homes, watching the news, and becoming increasingly nervous about the severity of the storm.
“It doesn’t matter if a decision wasn’t made the best at the time, this is somebody’s crisis,” said Jason Shelley, another volunteer. “We need to come in at any hour.”
Richard Abrusci, Executive Director of 211 Sacramento, told CBS13 he got the call from Florida yesterday and decided his office had to step up and help.
“For us, it’s really being 3,000 miles away but acting and feeling as though we are local to these callers,” Abrusci said.
“I’ve got all the time in the world,” Drinker said, in an attempt to comfort a concerned caller. “You’re the only call I’ve got.”
These volunteers are the only lifeline for millions of terrified people.
"These folks have tried to call 911,” Abrusci said. “…911 has been backlogged and they're not able to get through so they call us!"
Back in 2005, Drinker felt Katrina first hand.
"I was in Central Mississippi, which took a heavy hit,” she recalled.
And that experience only fueled her desire to send the same strong message to every caller.
"These people need to pack their bags and get to a safe place!" she said.
And with just an hour of training, the volunteers are learning as they go.
"If we have someone that's calling, and we don't know what to do, we raise our hand, put them on mute, try to get some help,” said Kathy McMullen, a volunteer.
"Now we're looking to find places that are open and get the people routed there,” Shelley said.
The phone lines will be open all night, as disaster inches closer and closer to so many Floridians.
"My heart goes out to them,” McMullen said.
The call center is still looking for volunteers to start immediately. If you’d like to help, you can email Richard Abrusci at Rabrusci@211sacramento.org.