It’s Experiences Like These That Make a Difference

By Patty Flowers, Wisconsin Region American Red Cross CEO

As I was winding up my 3+ week deployment in Houston, I felt a little bittersweet because I was leaving some ‘family’ behind.  It’s amazing how you become so close to people from all over the country when you work beside them for 12-14 hour days.  Servant hearts comes to mind because that is what I was surrounded by and had been for more than 3 weeks.  You don’t have to ask ‘what is the right thing to do’ because it’s already being asked by each person.  It was an amazing team down in that great state and I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

Houston dog visit 2 (2).jpgOne of the days some special visitors came to visit us at headquarters!  What an uplifting 15 minutes for so many tired people! Animals can make you smile and calm your brain so quickly.  I am so grateful for the group that came in with their special critters.  So much happiness and it was needed.  There was not a face without a smile!Houston Dog 2 visit (2)

 

 

So much had been done at the end of my deployment that some groups had closed up shop, including Disaster Assessment.  Their group accomplished what they had to do using drones to help with the flooded areas and it was amazingly efficient.  However, there’s still so much that needs to be done.  Over 3,000 people were still in shelters and these people are truly the ones who needed us the most.  They may have had family they could go to but they couldn’t get there because they couldn’t afford a bus ticket or gas for their car.

***Warning, tissues may be needed****

I met a incredible woman, Maria, in one of our larger shelters and she was waiting for the Individual Assistance program to come back online.  Maria told me that she had a miscarriage just a few days before the hurricane hit and one of the things she was desperate to do is buy some flowers and put them on her baby’s grave.  When she heard the good news that our assistance was coming back online, she started to cry and thanked me for all we were doing for them.  As I received one of the biggest hugs I’d ever gotten down in Houston, all I could think of is how incredibly cool it was that we were giving our donors’ gifts to someone like Maria.  Fulfilling a wish like this and allowing her to grieve and recover is what we were there for.  Please remind every donor that their donations are bringing smiles to people who have every reason not to smile during times like what Maria went through.

Another shelter resident I met, was James.  He had relatives in the Detroit area but he can’t afford to get there.  He told me he didn’t need any help with housing if he could only just get to Detroit.  I watched the smile on his face build into the biggest grin ever when he found out that we had bought him a plane ticket to get him up to his relatives.  I’ve quite honestly never seen anyone so excited.  Again, this is why we were there.

Below is a photo of Steve Hansen (Chapter Executive in Northeast Wisconsin), Michelle Goodwill (Bilingual Donor Recruitment Supervisor in Northeast Wisconsin), and myself at headquarters down in Houston.  Steve served as an EOL (Elected Officials Liaison) where he did really good work keeping communication channels open and making sure small mud puddles didn’t turn into quicksand for the Red Cross.  One day when his work was finished for the day, he very happily said yes to helping us set up a shelter in 96 degree heat with 96% humidity.  Steve worked tirelessly ALL day long with not one complaint.  He is amazing.  Michelle was on her first deployment working with the Latina Engagement Team and she has been able to take her skills in putting together blood drives to help her team with event planning in the community creating efficiencies and the ability to cover more people in need of our outreach.  AWESOME One Red Cross in action!!!

Houston One Red Cross (2)

Shout outs to other disaster workers & volunteers that were deployed down to headquarters doing great things and working LONG hours but I hardly saw, are Nick Cluppert (Disaster Program Manager for Northeast Wisconsin), Marytha Blanchard, our Division Disaster guru Megan Chamberlain, Wendy Savage (Executive Director for North Central Wisconsin), Charise Smith who rocked her first deployment handling in-kind donations, and Laurie Nehring from Blood Communications.  Last but certainly not least, Dave Gutierrez, our Division Disaster Executive who was the Job Director down in Texas. He is an amazing guy with the ability to handle such a complex operation and never get flustered.  I enjoyed getting to know Dave and my admiration for him grows each and every day.  Megan and Marytha were the leads for our amazing individual assistance program and literally lived at HQ for several days straight.  While they had a few bumps in the road, I am in awe of what they, along with the National team, put together.

Lastly, a few tidbits for you about Houston:  Traffic is a nightmare, gridlocked at most hours of the day.  Instead of bars on every corner, there are donut shops. Kolaches are a specialty, with different (usually some type of meat) fillings in each one.  I tried an egg and bacon one for breakfast and it was quite good!  There are even kolaches shohouston-kolaches-2.jpgps here and that’s all they sell…very popular.  And it is hot.  OMG, I have never been so hot at the end of September!!!  I couldn’t wait to get back and enjoy Fall.  90+ degrees does not equate to Fall in my view!

While I’ve been privileged to be able to deploy down to Texas, I am so very happy to be home. I want to thank each and every one who made a difference during this tough time, including those who stayed behind to keep Wisconsin going.  Our team rocks!

 

Reflections on Hurricane Irma Relief

By Viv Chappel, Wisconsin Region Grants Specialist

I just returned from my deployment in Florida, where I spent the better part of two weeks bringing hot meals to people impacted by Hurricane Irma. Mobile feeding of this nature is done with our fleet of Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs), trucks designed to move and distribute large quantities of food, drinks and other relief supplies.

My driving partner Terry and I brought our ERV from Wisconsin to assist with the disaster relief efforts. Each morning, we reported to a large kitchen in Lutz, Florida (near Tampa). There, we would receive our route assignment for that day, load up with food and supplies, and hit the road to bring hot meals to residents in need.

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Viv Chappell with the Emergency Response Vehicle from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Parked near the kitchen in Lutz, FL, awaiting the day’s route assignment.

Our Wisconsin ERV provided thousands of meals in communities primarily between Tampa and Orlando, where many residents were still without power a week or more after Hurricane Irma struck. We saw considerable wind damage and some flooding throughout these areas. With many people having lost the contents of their refrigerators, and the difficulties of storing and cooking food without electricity, the hot meals provided by the Red Cross were a welcome sight.

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An ERV driver from Washington serves meals to some young Floridians.

The gratitude expressed to us by the people we served was overwhelming and humbling. I want to pass this gratitude along to you and the donors and partners with whom you work—because each and every one of you plays a part in making these moments of relief and hope possible. Some memorable moments while we delivered free hot meals to communities in need:

  • One young woman did a double take when she saw we were serving food, and said, “You’re serving hot meals? You’re going to make me cry.” And tears of joy came to her eyes.
  • A boy about 12 years of age was so happy he kept saying, “You guys are so nice, you guys are so nice! Thank you!”
  • A woman in an apartment complex that was still without full power over a week after the storm said, “Y’all are a blessing.”
  • On a couple of occasions, we came across mothers that needed baby supplies such as diapers and milk. We embraced the motto “Get to yes” and made it happen right away, even though these requests were outside of our truck’s day-to-day hot meal service delivery. The moms were so grateful for our help.
  • Too many “Thank you’s,” “Bless you’s” and smiles to count.
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Viv Chappell serves meals outside of a community center in Dade City, FL.

Throughout my deployment, the power of the Red Cross Chapter network was clear. Our ERV was one of about ten trucks operating out of just this one kitchen on any given day—not to mention all the activity occurring in other parts of the state and beyond. Red Cross ERVs and volunteers came to Florida from all corners of the country. I met Red Crossers from Washington state, New England, and just about everywhere in between. We were brought together by a common purpose, to fulfill the mission of the Red Cross and help alleviate human suffering in the face of disaster. It’s comforting to know that people will come to help whenever and wherever needed.

Click here for more pictures of the Hurricane Irma relief efforts in Central Florida. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do here in Wisconsin to bring relief to Florida and other areas impacted by recent disasters. Your support and hard work makes a difference!

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ERV drivers near the kitchen in Lutz, FL.