By Thursday afternoon, Scott Cox had left Calvert County and was halfway to Mississippi, with no idea of what he would find along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast but with a firm resolve to help.
"I believe 75 percent of Mississippi doesn't have power," said Cox, 41, of Huntingtown, one of a dozen workers from the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative who volunteered to help turn on the lights that Hurricane Katrina had snuffed out. The volunteers were heading to the Singing River Electric Power Association in Lucedale, Miss.
"You kind of don't know what you're going to get into when you go there, but you know it will be bad," Cox said.
The SMECO volunteers were among the many Southern Maryland residents eager to help those suffering through one of the nation's most calamitous natural disasters. Barbecue restaurants raised donations, elementary schools held penny drives, the chief of emergency services for Charles County went to Jackson, Miss., to help coordinate logistics, and St. Mary's College of Maryland offered to educate displaced students.
By Thursday afternoon, about 70 people from Southern Maryland had signed up with the American Red Cross for a three-day training session before being shipped out to the South. Other volunteers were already on the road.
"This is really arduous duty, there's bugs and snakes all wanting to find higher ground. . . . The humidity is 10 times what it is here," said Mike Zabko, director of the Southern Maryland chapter of the Red Cross. "It takes a special person to want to go do volunteer work in an environment like that. But we're finding them in Southern Maryland."
Two Red Cross volunteers already took the chapter's emergency response vehicle to a staging area in Little Rock, to await deployment, Zabko said. The vehicle will carry food and water as well as brooms, mops, buckets and disinfectants, Zabko said.
Red Cross and other relief agencies are urging residents in Southern Maryland and elsewhere to consider making cash donations, which they say are preferable to sending supplies.
"We can't deal with that," Zabko said of donated material. "If they send us a dollar, we can stretch that to many, many places."
All over Southern Maryland people were willing to give their dollars.
In St. Mary's County, Benjamin Banneker Elementary School organized a hurricane relief fundraiser last week, and Green Holly Elementary hosted a penny drive. The Newtowne Players acting troupe will host a benefit performance Sept. 17 at the Three Notch Theatre in Lexington Park. All proceeds of the $25 admission will go to the Red Cross.
The St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office will host a blood drive for Katrina victims from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at the headquarters in Leonardtown. Officials from the county Office of Community Services will be on hand to accept cash donations for the relief effort.
Administrators at St. Mary's College of Maryland are offering admission to six students who will not be able to attend their universities in Mississippi, Louisiana or Alabama. Priority will go to students who are "homeless both from their school and their family homes," the college's president, Maggie O'Brien, said in a statement. Admission will be expedited, and financial assistance will be available. Four additional students from Maryland who attended storm-affected colleges in the South also will be offered admission if they can find off-campus housing, said St. Mary's College spokesman Marc Apter.
"We feel a special bond with students who suddenly find themselves without a college," O'Brien said.