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.
Story credit: Bob Wallace/American Red Cross (Note: Bob, a public affairs volunteer at the Mid-South chapter, wrote this story while on deployment in Northwest Louisiana assisting with the Red Cross relief effort after the spring floods.)
Bossier City, Louisiana, March 21, 2016. “I dream a lot in my sleep, but I stop dreaming when I wake up,” says Fred Goldman, who is currently residing at an American Red Cross shelter in Bossier City, Louisiana. It’s a seemingly accurate snapshot of how this somewhat crusty, very direct speaking gentleman, realistically views life in general, as well as his current situation.
It was almost two weeks ago, after an incredible amount of rain was coming down, that Fred’s neighbor banged on the door of his lake-community home shouting, “You have to get out of here, Now!”
Water had already crept inside Fred’s home and was rising fast. But getting out fast was complicated: Fred is confined to a wheelchair because his left leg has been amputated just below the knee. With the help of his neighbor, both Fred and his wheelchair did make it out, but he had to leave everything else behind, including some critical medications, all to be engulfed by the floodwaters.
Initially, Fred was transported to a shelter set up by a local Methodist church, where a nurse helped him secure a fresh supply of his medications. “But they got me out of there pretty fast and brought me here to the Red Cross shelter.” Fred recalled.
Workers at the Red Cross shelter welcomed Fred and provided him with fresh clothes. They have also accommodated his special, near vegetarian, diet. “I know I was short on protein…. They got a local health food store to donate some special food, including soy milk,” shared Fred. “I really didn’t need it to be a donation…. Once I get out, I’m going to pay for it,” he volunteered.
Red Cross workers also provided Fred a new shoe with good traction for his remaining right foot, making it easier for him to get around by pushing his wheelchair backwards, his favorite mode of travel.
Fred speaks highly of the Red Cross shelter and one of its managers, Colleen Morgan. “She’s been nice and very considerate,” which comes across from Fred as high praise. On this day Colleen spent a long time patiently listening as Fred talked about his situation and where he would like to live temporarily until he can get back to his home. It was clear that the two of them had developed a good relationship and that Colleen is caring and considerate of his needs. In addition to listening and helping him sort through his options for the future, she returned a call to FEMA that Fred had missed, and remained available as Fred talked with them to assist if there was a need.
When Colleen finally left the shelter, she recited a list of things he had asked her to do for him that included purchasing undershirts. “I’d prefer them to not be white,” said Fred. “And not Fruit of the Loom.” “I know, you like dark colors,” Colleen replied. He also asked her to please bring in her pinking shears so that she could cut off the sleeves of some of his donated pullover sweatshirts to make them easier to get on.
“Every time I leave he has a list of things for me to do for him,” said a very calm and even-tempered Colleen.
Fred is a military veteran, having served in the Air Force. After the military, he followed his father into the plumbing business where his family lived on the outskirts of Chicago. Later he moved to Louisiana where he worked in the retail plumbing supply business.
Fred’s plumbing expertise was on display this day when he described in detail the likely problem with a shelter shower bushing that leaks, causing cold water to drip on him. There is no doubt that if both legs were intact and a wrench was at hand, Fred would have that problem fixed in a flash.
Fred’s crusty exterior has a tendency to melt as one spends time talking with him, and it disappears completely when he talks about his cat, which he calls Kitten or sometimes Sweetie. It was just a couple of months ago that the cat showed up at Fred’s door, and he took her in. Having survived the flood, Kitten now resides with a friend, but Fred is afraid that if he does not get back to her soon, Kitten will forget him. “I’m sure she will remember me,” he said numerous times, as if he was trying to convince himself that his statement is true. He described how Kitten liked to sit in his lap, but the very best according to Fred is when she nuzzled his neck and chin. “That’s the very best,” said Fred.
“I’m not going to let kitten down,” stated Fred a number of times with purpose and vigor. With that sense of purpose and hope, along with some help from the Red Cross, FEMA, and maybe some community organizations, Fred is likely to rebound and restore his home, where both he and Kitten can settle once again into a good life together.