‘The only person she could turn to right now was the Red Cross’: a disaster volunteer shares anecdotes of service during COVID-19

Transcription & Photos by Justin Kern, American Red Cross

We recently talked with Southeast Wisconsin Chapter disaster action team volunteer Paul Beinecke for a video project that covered the added challenges and rewards in work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not every portion of Paul’s touching input was included in the video, but all of it was moving.

20190708_230707

American Red Cross volunteer Paul Beinecke talks with a resident displaced by an apartment fire in winter 2019 on the East Side of Milwaukee.

Below, we pulled a few additional takeaways and anecdotes from Paul, in the hopes that you’ll get yet another glimmer of the stories and heart that drive our thousands of volunteers here in Wisconsin.

On some of the emotional challenges in providing care amid COVID-19:

“One of the things I’ve noticed … during the COVID environment is that we’re all experiencing different forms of isolation and stress. And yet, when we meet these individuals, it comes down to a human element. We’re on the same page. We see things through their eyes, that we might not normally see, experiences with individuals of diverse backgrounds.


Your gift, no matter the size, is doubled through June 24. Click here to double your support.


On keeping up support for people displaced by disaster during a pandemic:

“We haven’t changed what we deliver to clients. The method of delivery has changed a little bit. We still deliver disaster mental health services, we still supply disaster health services, we supply lodging, when necessary, we supply food and feeding when necessary.

One change is that we screen our volunteers and we screen our clients [for symptoms of COVID-19]. We practice social distancing. It’s been actually going over very easily, both with our volunteers and with our clients. The clients don’t get upset when we talk about COVID screening, when we practice social distancing. In many cases, they ask us to (socially distance) before we even ask them to. So, it’s been a good experience. (Volunteering with) the Red Cross has always been a good experience for me. It’s hard to help people and not feel good about it.

On being a parent and grandparent, then seeing people with their own children affected by home fires:

“When I was working with a young mother … being a grandfather (myself) and having a couple of young grandchildren right now, it was hard for me to imagine, seeing a young woman, a single mother, with a one-month old and having to deal with the loss of everything in her household.

The only person she could turn to right now was the Red Cross. The Red Cross was there for her. That makes you feel good.

GF fire COVID April 2020 Jim Robin Berzowski food arrange

Robin Berzowski, foreground, arranges food deliveries for people affected by a fire in Greenfield in spring 2020 with her husband and fellow volunteer, Jim.

On the empathy of his disaster volunteer colleague, Robin, while fighting back tears:

“So Robin (Berzowski) is one of our volunteers who is on the disaster team with me. … You know, we all talk about ‘clients.’ That’s what we’re trained to do and that’s how we talk about it. We refer to everybody as a client.

Robin refers to everybody by their first name. … It’s tearful for me, I don’t know why. (Paul, fighting back tears:) She just has empathy that is just unbelievable.

She goes out onto a scene, like an apartment fire, where there’s 20 people. [In our casework] we refer to the client by number. Robin refers to clients by name, every single one of them.

I’ve been to a couple of the larger fires after Robin has been with them. And all of them ask me where Robin is. Robin has brought flowers to people [to Dolores, an octogenarian living alone and displaced from a fire over Easter]. She knows everyone by name.”

Your generosity supports the food and resources brought to people recovering from fires, floods and other catastrophes. That generosity is doubled for a short-time; if you give by June 24, a support is matching all gifts to the American Red Cross of Wisconsin. Thank you for considering a gift that doubles your impact.

Special thanks to Lance and the team at Plum Media for capturing Paul’s story as part of their powerful videos that led our 2020 Brave Hearts event.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: