CLEVELAND, Tenn.-An unspoken obstacle to getting help to many victims of last week's storms is simply individual pride, neighborhood helpers say.
On Wednesday, Bradley County Commissioner Robert Rominger and commission administrative assistant Amy Moore went through some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods to find people who need immediate help paying rent for short-term shelter.
"The first question is, 'What do you need?'" Rominger said. "You hear 'I'm fine. I'm fine.' And their houses are gone."
They learned to ask other questions, such as, "Are you sleeping on wet mattresses?" From that point, it sometimes took a half-hour of conversation or more to find out what families really needed, Rominger and Moore said.
Commissioner Adam Lowe, who was chairman of a Thursday meeting of the relief group, said he is finding the same reactions among victims.
"They wouldn't even go pick up food and clothing. And they were skeptical of [the Federal Emergency Management Agency]," he said. "I finally used the argument that you've paid taxes for years for this."
An anonymous donor gave $10,000 to the county to be used to help families needing temporary help. The Bradley County Tornado Relief Fund was established with the money, administered as a separate fund by the Cleveland/Bradley United Way.
Steve Watson, from the Discovery Channel's "Monster House" and HGTV's "Yard Attack" programs, returned to his hometown Wednesday from his current home in Los Angeles.
One of his first encounters, Watson said, was with a man grilling steaks where his family is living in tents beside their demolished house. Watson was hoping not to see the desperation he saw during the Hurricane Katrina recovery of New Orleans.
"He got his paycheck. He was grilling steaks. He said, 'Oh, I don't need anything. We've got the kids. We've got the dogs. We've got steaks on the grill,'" Watson said.
It's a great attitude that he doesn't want to see disappear if debris cleanup lags, Watson said.
Watson also will be at this evening's annual Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society, which has become a disaster relief rally.
A T-shirt sale will be held at the rally, said Suzanne Wisdom, director of the Court Appointed Special Advocates children's program.
The program's Kentucky Derby party fundraiser Saturday at the Cleveland Country Club also will raise disaster relief funds, she said.
On Thursday, the group approved the relief fund to spend $4,750 to help families with rent, storage containers, dry mattresses and other immediate needs.