Red Cross Disaster Response Puts it All in Perspective

By Jennifer Callahan, Disaster Workforce Engagement Manager, American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region

On Thursday, January 17, I was honored to be part of the Red Cross response to a partial building collapse in Meriden. The residents had been displaced the previous day and were housed by the City of Meriden. The City established a space at a local hotel where displaced residents could meet with Red Cross Disaster Action Team volunteers to assess other needs and provide some basic personal care items to the 17 families affected by the disaster.

The day was filled with surprises. Nothing can quite prepare you for the positive outlook some of our clients have, even in the face of such uncertainty. All of these families have lost belongings, some temporarily and some permanently. Each family is currently looking for a new place to live in the middle of the coldest winter in years. Disaster Action Team member Ginny Brezza and I met with a couple that has already been through a great deal of uncertainty and adversity. The gentleman has been facing many challenging health issues for over 20 years. He has conquered brain tumors for most of his life. This couple also has a 5-year-old son and a family who loves them very much. When Ginny and I complimented them on their positive outlook, they told us that when you’ve been through what they have been through, “this is nothing.” They had gone back into their apartment with a chaperone and retrieved the things that are impossible to replace: their wedding album, her grandmother’s engagement ring, her parents’ wedding album. They told us, “The rest is just stuff, and stuff can be replaced.” As we were wrapping up, we told the couple that we’re not worried about them at all, as their positive attitudes will surely carry the day for them. As our Red Cross team was leaving about an hour later, the gentleman was bringing two huge boxes of toys through the hotel lobby. When he saw us, he laughed and said, “See? We’re already getting presents!”

We had a rotating group of families in our Emergency Response Vehicle and at one point in the day volunteers Tom McKee, Ginny Brezza and I had a veritable comedy show going on. The clients appreciated our lightheartedness almost as much as we appreciated theirs. Sometimes a kind word or a laugh at just the right time makes all the difference.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to witness the caring and compassionate nature of our volunteers firsthand and I look forward to many more opportunities to do so. My eyes filled with tears more than a few times, which I will consider an occupational hazard.

A big thank you to volunteers Ginny Brezza, Andrew Curtis, Lionel Dunlap, John Glendon, Barbara LaFreniere, Tom McKee, Laurie Murphy and Area 2 (South Central Connecticut) Senior Emergency Services Director Sue Parker for their great teamwork!

Area 2 Senior Emergency Services Director Sue Parker’s team included volunteers from both Area 2 and 3 (Central and Northern Connecticut), who worked as one cohesive team and got the job done. The fact that we managed to have some laughs and to talk about the news of the day helped a great deal, but I know that was only possible because we have the world’s best volunteers. It is our volunteers who make us the greatest organization on earth. Thank you for stepping up day after day and night after night. We would be nothing without your dedication and we salute the sacrifices you make in the service of those in need.

Get involved! To learn more about Red Cross volunteering, click here.

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