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.
After joining the American Red Cross as a volunteer this past August, Andre Flagg quickly moved from being a trainee on a Disaster Action Team (DAT) to the DAT Captain position and is frequently on call for the overnight shift. Andre first learned about the Red Cross from a television advertisement asking for volunteers. “They said they needed one-hundred and fifty people, sounded interesting, so I came down,” he recalled.
After Andre finished his new volunteer training he immediately deployed to California for a Red Cross wildfire disaster response. Working in a shelter filled with people who had lost their homes to the fire, he had a full immersion into the DAT experience. He realized right away that the Red Cross’s job is to discover what someone in crisis needs and to both provide and direct them to the appropriate services. It was also his first time to fly. “It was quite an adventure,” he says, “I liked it.”
Andre also quickly realized that Red Cross clients have sometimes lost the ability to smile, so part of a volunteer’s job is to hold a smile for them until they can pick it back up. “It’s not a lot, what we give them, but it’s enough to make them comfortable until they can get situated, after a fire or storm,” Andre said.
Andre remembers one client, “a lady who had a fire, and her mother came over, but she got so excited, she had a stroke on scene. They took her to the hospital, but her daughter was so distraught, she just kept her head down. You know, I used to give the kids little bears from the comfort kits, but this time I gave a little bear to the daughter, and you know she smiled for the first time since we got there and gave me a big hug. That made my day.”
When he is not on duty for the Red Cross, Andre loves to fish. “I love it every time I go and go every time I can. If I see some water and have my stuff with me, I go try it out,” he chuckles. (FYI the best fishing in Shelby County, according to Andre, is at Orgill Park in Millington). He also used to keep fifty-gallon aquariums at home. “I liked to sit and watch the fish,” he says.
Ever resourceful, Andre made his own roller skates as a child. “We would take some wheels off of something else, cut a board, and strap them around our feet. They would break down,” he laughs, “and then we would fix them. We also made go-carts. We used to race down the hill where we lived.”
Born and raised in Memphis, Andre is the third child among three brothers, three sisters, five of whom are still in Memphis. He also has a thirteen-year old son. Andre played football at East High School and was offered an art scholarship to Rhodes College. “I didn’t follow up on it,” he says, “but I used to draw a lot when I was young. I just loved to draw. I don’t know what it was, I just put the pencil in my hand and started drawing.”
He does not regret passing up the scholarship though. “I know I liked to draw,” he says, “but I didn’t want to make a career out of it. I like to do different things, mostly. I don’t like to be stuck doing one thing.” After high school, he worked for a temporary service where they would send him out on different jobs. He says, “employers would often tell him, ‘you work real good. Come back next week and fill out an application’ . . . I learn easy,” he says.”
Andre is now retired, but his primary profession was construction. “I loved it,” he says, “I’ve done work at the casinos and some at St. Jude, different places.” He also worked in landscaping with his father. He says, “I like to build things.”
Andre says if he could do any job at all, he would cook. “I’m a good cook,” he states. He claims to make stellar lasagna and is willing to share his method. His two-fold secret to great lasagna is to season the sauce with lots of spices, so the flavor will be bold and then let it cool and reheat. “My grandmother taught me how to cook,” he says, “I’d be right there in the kitchen watching her all the time and I asked a lot of questions. ‘What’s this for?’ or ‘Why are you putting this in there?’” She let me stay beside her… “I’ve had a few cooking jobs. I used to cook for Bosco’s in Germantown and Garibaldi’s, different places.” His family used to take turns cooking on Sundays, and Andre laughs when he says, “They’d be glad when it was my time to cook.”
Growing up Andre was very close to his Grandmother, with whom he lived until he was thirteen and he continued to spend a lot of time with her as long as she lived. She not only taught him to cook, but she also taught him important life lessons. She is the one who told him not to follow other people. “She told me, ‘don’t try to be like other people, be your own self.’” He follows that advice: “I like to try to do my own thing.”
Andre also likes to keep to himself, but doesn’t mind being in the midst of chaos. “If you know what you’re doing,” he says, “all that other stuff around you is just there . . . I’m a good listener; you hear people around, but you don’t hear them, you know what I’m saying.”
Andre is quiet, and yet also very much a people person. He feels deeply for his Red Cross clients “You see the situation they are in, and you try to calm things down. I’ve never been on a call where someone died . . . I don’t want to do it, but I can. You know what somebody is feeling, because we’ve all lost somebody, and you don’t want nobody else to go through that. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s sad, you know what I’m saying.” Andre’s intuitive sense of what people need is keen. He says, “When you go on a call you listen to see what they need. You can read between the lines sometimes. I gave a lady a hug one time and she said, ‘you just don’t know how bad I needed that.’ She couldn’t stop thanking me, she just couldn’t stop.”
The Red Cross volunteers who know and work with Andre clearly value his contributions, and even more seem to recognize the particular gifts of this remarkable person among many “kindly ones.” Andre, himself, best reveals what makes him special, “I don’t really know how to put it; it gives me joy and peace to help people. I just love doing this.”
Story Credit: Kathleen Bradley for the American Red Cross