Thursday night, Tina Simoes made a decision. Friday, she took a class. And today, she'll be on her way to Baton Rouge.
The 31-year-old mother of four from Escalon is one of dozens of volunteers being sent out through the Modesto office of the American Red Cross to help people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"I was just watching the news and knowing I could help somehow," Simoes said. "It's better than feeling helpless at home."
The Modesto Red Cross office is sending up to 60 people a day to help the storm-ravaged South, from Miami to Mississippi. Emergency Services Director Jim Money said people have been pouring into the office offering to help. Training classes are available at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. every day for the foreseeable future, including Labor Day.
"Stanislaus County has really responded," Money said.
Most volunteers will help feed and shelter people. They can go from 10 days to 21 days. All they have to do is go through a three-hour training course and take the time off.
Marc Campbell, 38, of Modesto works for E.&J. Gallo Winery. He said he'll probably ship out this week. He's taking vacation time, but has to make sure he has everything at work as settled as he can before he goes.
He decided to volunteer Wednesday.
"I have the time and it's the right thing to do," he said.
Campbell, his wife and their two children talked it over, and his wife wants to volunteer, too. She'll likely go when he returns from his 10-day stint, he said.
The children, he said, were nervous after seeing pictures of New Orleans on television.
However, the Red Cross isn't sending people into New Orleans. It's not safe, officials said. Rather, there are other areas where people who fled the city have gone to receive help.
The Red Cross phone lines have been jammed with people wanting to donate, volunteers said, and there's a need for more than just people to help with food and shelter.
Nathan Erickson, 32, a Modesto computer consultant, said he's ready to do whatever is needed, including helping with emergency computer demands.
"I have more time than money," he said after finishing his training Friday afternoon. He said he'll go for 10 days, but might extend his stay.
Volunteers are told to bring only what they can carry. They receive a Red Cross debit card with $750 for expenses, and the agency advises how much should be spent daily on needs such as food, gas and laundry. The Red Cross also gives each volunteer $150 to buy supplies before departing, and it pays for airfare and lodging.
Of course, Simoes said, volunteers can wind up sleeping on concrete floors as easily as in hotel beds.
Delta College students Gurpreet Dhillon, 19, of Modesto and Aron Kifle, 20, of Patterson left Saturday. They'll go to Houston and be deployed from there.
"I'm pretty nervous about going," Dhillon said Friday. "But I feel like it's going to be a good experience."
Kifle said he's excited for the chance to help people.
"I can't wait to go," he said. "I think it's wonderful."
The volunteers have to expect 10- to 12-hour workdays and to deal with a lot of pain, physical and emotional.
Tracy Plante, 47, of Modesto said she has asked to be assigned specifically to distraught hurricane victims.
"It takes a lot to get me down," she said.
Campbell said that sort of spirit is going to be one of the most critical things volunteers can offer.
"I think we just have to have empathy, be patient and offer hope that things will get better," he said. "It's a desperate situation. People need help."
To contact the American Red Cross, call 523-6451 or visit www.redcross.org.
Bee staff writer Lorena Anderson can be reached at 578-2366 or firstname.lastname@example.org.