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.

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