The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
by Barbara Burch Kuhn
It was fitting that my first real volunteer experience with the Red Cross occurred over the July 4 weekend. What better way to mark the USA’s birthday than by helping others.
Although the Mid-South Chapter was in the midst of responding to the flooding that occurred at the Wheel Estate Mobile Home Park on Brooks Road, my initial volunteer experience was manning a water station at the Stars and Stripes 5K held at Tiger Lane the evening of July 3. Getting water to thirsty runners is harder than it looks! I was glad to be on the first of two water stations so that anybody who we missed had a second shot at refreshment.
The next morning, I reported to the shelter at Pine Hill Community Center where about 20 people affected by the June 29 flooding were staying. The Pine Hill shelter was the second shelter the Red Cross operated during this disaster response; the first shelter at Hickory Hill Community Center housed more than 150 people in the first few days after the flood occurred.
By Friday, July 4, that number had dropped as people found other places to stay or were able to return to their homes.
There wasn’t a lot going on when I got there at 8 a.m. The families that had spent the night were up early and off to work on repairing their homes. At about 10 a.m., I was dispatched to the Wheel Estate Mobile Home Park to help hand out food and cleaning supplies.
Just outside the pool area at the mobile home park, a team of about 10 volunteers distributed Red Cross cleaning kits from one Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) and boxes of food from another.
It wasn’t long before our supply ran out, and both ERVs headed back to the chapter for another load.
This time, we set up the truck nearer to the area where the flood damage had occurred, so that people whose homes were damaged wouldn’t have to travel as far to get what they needed. Again, we were able to distribute all of our snacks and cleaning supplies, and the residents made it clear how much we were appreciated.
We were lucky to have a young helper, Carlos Eduardo Olvere, who made sure that residents knew we were there and served as a translator. Carlos, I later learned, had been a presence at both the Hickory Hill and Pine Hill Shelters, helping keep things orderly and translating for volunteers who didn’t speak Spanish.
I asked the soon-to-be fifth-grader what he liked to do, and his response was that of a true volunteer spirit: “I like to help people.”
“Me, too,” I told him.
The next day, Saturday July 5, I was back to the shelter for another 8 a.m. to noon shift, which was uneventful, as the shelter residents again had gotten up early and left to go work on repairing their homes.
We spent the morning cleaning in anticipation of the shelter closing – it turned out the shelter wouldn’t close until July 7 at noon. But the effort wasn’t wasted, as it made the job easier once the shelter did close.
All in all, this first volunteer experience was a good one. I got some hands-on experience in a shelter and also in disaster response.
I’ll be that much more prepared the next time.