Chicago area relief agencies watching Gustav

CHICAGO Red Cross volunteer Mary Hunter is watching news reports from the hurricane-stricken Gulf region with more than a passing interest. By Tuesday, the Libertyville grandmother will be on the ground in Mississippi helping victims. She remembers doing the same work three years ago in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina.

"Once I got down there they assigned me to client case work, which we meet with the people impacted by the hurricane and help them financially get back on their feet," said Mary Hunter, Red Cross volunteer.

Hunter is one of about 3,000 Red Cross volunteers from around the country en route to the Gulf region.

Also from Illinois: at least three National Guard helicopters and crews and several ministers. The ministers, who held a news conference in Chicago Monday, are on standby to raise money, send supplies or lend personal support to the relief effort.

"We want to be prepared for all of the scenarios we had before and the additional training we got from the Department of Health to be able to do more in a more effective manner," said Bishop Simon Gordon. Triedstone Baptist Church.

Hunter, a retired clinical researcher, is a breast cancer survivor. She described herself as anxious but unafraid.

"I want to give back. I've had a good life. I've been blessed, and I just want to do something to help someone who may not be as lucky as I am," said Hunter.

The first Red Cross volunteers left the Chicago area over the weekend, days before the storm's landfall. How many more might be needed, from the Chicago area or from around the country, will not be known for another day or two.

The American Red Cross has opened a shelter in northwest Chicago for anyone seeking shelter from Hurricane Gustav.

Martha Carlos is a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. She says the charity received several dozen calls from people in the Chicago area asking if shelter was available.

The shelter opens at 7 p.m. Monday at Northeastern Illinois University. The charity says it will provide beds, meals and emotional support.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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