The Red Vest: A Sign of Hope

Written by: Andy Duchow, Red Cross Volunteer

Hope Koestner, Green Bay, was recently deployed to Richmond VA to serve as part of a Red Cross condolence team in response to Hurricane Irene.  Some of her duties included providing emotional support to families who have lost loved ones, and delivering financial assistance for memorial services.  Hope describes it best:

“The positive impact the American Red Cross Disaster Response Teams have on our clients during deployment is endless.  Providing shelter and a bed to someone who would otherwise sleep on the floor of their destroyed home or giving a meal to someone who hasn’t eaten in three days because their power is out and all of the food has spoiled are just the tip of the iceberg.  People affected by disasters look for the Emergency Response Vehicles, the volunteers in their red vests, and I have been told by clients that as soon as they see these things they are instantly relieved, knowing help has arrived and they will be OK.”

Her primary responsibilities lie with the Health Service Staff who try to anticipate and prepare for the immediate medical needs of disaster victims by providing basic first aid, medication, medical equipment, and even eyeglass replacement.  They interact with local community organizations to arrange for the medical needs of their clients, and to make arrangements with doctors and pharmacies to find replacements for necessary medicines and equipment.

They also work with families who have lost loved ones during the disaster.  They remain with the families through the end of the funeral service, providing help and support.

“While being part of a the Red Cross Disaster Response Team is both an honor and a privilege, it also comes with a lot of responsibility.”  Disaster volunteers are always ready to go where they are needed.  When disaster strikes they are on their way within 24 hours of receiving their call to action.

Often the teams work 8-12 hour shifts every day, going to neighborhood shelters, and even door to door, offering assistance in whatever way they can.

The Red Cross emergency response teams are a close group, united by their commitment to serve the needs of those in crisis.  “Although you may travel there alone, once you get there you are surrounded by other volunteers from all over the country and it’s like you have an instant family.”

Hope began volunteering with the American Red Cross in 1991 when her husband was deployed to Saudi Arabia.  He had worked in a military hospital, and his deployment left them shorthanded.  So Hope volunteered to help.

She spent 40 hours a week at the hospital for 8 months until the regular hospital staff returned.

In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Hope began going on Red Cross deployments.

“At that time we were not in a position to help financially and I wanted to give something.  So I gave myself.”

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