By Andreina Sosa, American Red Cross
September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month and the American Red Cross is celebrating by recognizing the many Hispanic employees, volunteers and donors who give their talent, time and treasure to the Red Cross humanitarian mission.
Meet Ezequiel “Memo” Alejandro, a beloved volunteer who has dedicated over 40 years of service to the Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island Region. Memo has traveled to help our communities affected by multiple disasters across the country, including Hurricane Katrina (2015), Hurricane Maria (2017) and most recently Hurricane Ida (2021). Here is my conversation with him around Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.
How does your Hispanic heritage influence your work at the Red Cross?
I became a Red Cross volunteer in 1976. My good friend and Red Cross volunteer Georgina de los Rios invited me to join. She said they were looking for Spanish-speaking people to volunteer for the Disaster Action Team. [Disaster Action Team members arrive on scene to aid those who have been affected by a local disaster, most commonly a home fire.] I knew I was the perfect person to help. Being a Hispanic with the Red Cross has given me the opportunity to reach out to our Spanish-speaking clients. I can provide them with an extra level of comfort, and a sense of peace and security knowing that I can be there for families in this way.
What is your proudest moment with the Red Cross?
I’ve been a Red Cross volunteer during some of the most special times in my life, like getting married to my college sweetheart, Amy, and time spent with my brothers and beautiful family.
When you deploy with the Red Cross to a disaster you are there for two weeks. During those first few days, you quickly make best friends with the people you are working alongside. It’s funny…just the day before they were total strangers. Now they are friends for life!
You’ve been on many disaster relief operations. Tell us about your experience with Hurricane Maria.
I was sent to Saint Croix, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, as a Shelter Manager as part of the team deployed to help residents of the island along with other evacuees cope with the devastation from Hurricane Irma. I was the most senior member with over 40 years of experience. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the Shelter Manager role but having deployed so many times to help those in need I knew that being able to serve where needed was most important. You must be flexible when you’re in the Red Cross.
During my second week at Saint Croix, Hurricane Maria comes along. Then everything changed drastically.
It was a very long evening at our shelter, we had over 70 people staying there, ranging from newborns to 80-years-old, and our volunteers experience ranged from 40 years to one week. My job was to make sure everyone was safe. Little did I know, I would be the one needing the help. On the second day I noticed something was wrong. I described my symptoms to the nurse on duty and she gave me medicine and about 15 minutes later the pain was almost gone.
As time went on, I knew things were still not right. I realized I was having a heart attack.
I was taken to the local St. Croix hospital, but the hurricanes had badly damaged the building I had to be air-lifted to Mississippi.
A few days later they flew my wife to see me, and after my discharge, I told her the first place we needed to go before heading home was our local Red Cross office. I wanted to thank everyone for everything they had done to make my transition home as smooth as possible.
What would you say to someone interested in becoming a volunteer?
I ask everyone: do you want to make a difference in someone’s life? If you volunteer to deploy to a disaster relief operation with the Red Cross, this will be enough to change your attitude towards others and your life perspective. You will see what others are going through and you will become a much more compassionate person.
The Red Cross is proud to be a part of the rich Spanish heritage and tradition in the United States and even more proud of the extraordinary people who mirror the diverse community we proudly serve. Thank you, Memo, for your service to the Red Cross as an amazing volunteer and as a member of the Hispanic community.
¡Gracias, Memo, por tu maravillosa labor como voluntario para la Cruz Roja y como miembro de nuestra comunidad hispana!