“Show Them That We Care”: Volunteers Detail Unique Roles in Disaster Relief

By Kelsey ShaSha McCarthy, American Red Cross

At the American Red Cross, volunteers donate their time, skills, experience and care to alleviate the suffering of others during a disaster.

Yet no two volunteer departments are the same. And a recent wave of apartment fires brought forth the unique skills and heart volunteers have in our shared mission to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

On Jan. 28, three separate apartment fires – two in Milwaukee and one in Beaver Dam – displaced nearly 400 people in a single day. In an already-busy winter of home fire relief in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan, our local volunteers and some from other states stepped up in their various roles to make sure people in need were taken care of. More than 184 volunteers were involved in those larger scale incidents, with dozens more involved in the every day response and recovery of people across our Region.

Ranjit Verma, right, and volunteer team member Denise Bruneau pick up 130 lunches cooked by Alverno College, to share with people displaced by an apartment fire in Milwaukee.

One of the departments that provides assistance is the Disaster Action Team, or DAT.

Ranjit Verma, a volunteer from Shorewood, has been a DAT member for around two years. When asked how the DAT Team helps clients and their families Ranjit explained that “we respond to people in disaster areas; commonly fire accidents that have taken place in the area.”

Ranjit has always played a volunteer role in his life. Before he joined the Red Cross, he hosted a number of fundraisers and supported local students in his area.

When Ranjit heard about the Red Cross, he knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. He enjoys providing care and comfort to people “who have faced unpleasant situations” and he is glad to be “part of this mission to give to people in need.”

On Feb. 1, Ranjit and other DAT feeding volunteers delivered around 130 prepared meals to guests; he had another meal delivery route the next day. (All told, from one hotel-shelter set up for residents displaced from a Milwaukee apartment fire, volunteers delivered more than 7,000 meals in four-plus weeks.)

The meals consisted of a main course – chicken Caesar wraps, for instance – and a snack. Some guests even had dietary requirements and Ranjit provided diabetic meals to them. 

“I love the one-on-one interaction … saying ‘How is your day?’ provides relief. It brings a lot of smiles and joy and I’m more nervous than the guests sometimes,” he said.

With a knock and a call of “lunches … Red Cross,” Volunteer Terry Mackin brings sandwiches to rooms at a hotel-shelter not far from his home in Milwaukee. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

After delivering meals to guests, others would be waiting for theirs asking him, “When are you going to reach the third floor?” and “What did you get for us today?” 

However, along with the pleasant conversation, Ranjit also mentioned how guests looked to him for guidance. “It was surprising how much more they needed,” he explained.

They would often ask him about the next steps in their recovery and asked what they could expect next, putting their trust in him and the Red Cross volunteers on his team supporting them. 

Ranjit went on to explain how COVID has impacted his deliveries. He can no longer provide hugs or handshakes to offer comfort and Ranjit says he misses that contact as a way to connect with guests.

Another way volunteers once again answered the immense need was on the Health Services team. Again, on just the one Milwaukee apartment fire, Disaster Mental Health and Health Services provided 4,171 contacts with people for anything from medication prescription refills to talks with a certified counselor.

Jeanne Frey from Binghamton, N.Y. deployed in Milwaukee to assist with client support and prescription needs. Jeanne has served with the Red Cross in Health Services since 2005. As a retired registered nurse, Jeanne explained how she does her part to serve clients.

Jeanne Frey texts to check in with health needs of people displaced by an apartment fire in winter 2021 in Milwaukee. She flew in from Binghamton for two weeks of service in Wisconsin as a Health Services volunteer. Photo by Justin Kern/American Red Cross

“We try to help them move forward in their recovery and work with the community resources,” she said.

Jeanne works with case workers and other Red Cross volunteers as well as pharmacists and doctors to assist her clients.

“We provide food for them and take care of them and their medical needs if necessary … And we can contact the pharmacy where they have their prescriptions refilled and make arrangements to get those replaced if they lost them in a fire … We want them to feel safe.”

Jeanne explained how she enjoys providing the highest quality of care and attention to her clients.

“I come to one of the shelters and I’m available if one of the clients has a health-related need or I try to make myself available for any of their needs,” she said.

And when clients have emergency medical needs, Jeanne and her team act swiftly to provide critical support and ease her clients’ minds.

“As common practice …We will call the pharmacies and pick them up [prescriptions] for the clients if they needed them right away.”

Jeanne mentioned how much her service means to her and she knows how important it is to be there for them and help them through as many of their problems as she can. 

“For me personally I try to put myself in their place … anything that we can do to be supportive, show them that we care, and do whatever we can to help guide them back to some semblance of normalcy,” she said.

When asked about how she got started with the Red Cross back in 2005, Jeanne told about how she was inspired to join when a coworker of hers was already working with the Red Cross and had gone down to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina.

“I was just so touched by his role in providing care for the people down in New Orleans that I said, I think I can do that, too.”

If you or someone you know is thinking of becoming a Red Cross volunteer, please go online to the Red Cross Volunteer Opportunities page and see what area(s) of service might be a great fit for you. You can also find out the top needed volunteer positions at the Red Cross on the Become a Volunteer page.

The Red Cross will provide the necessary training and new volunteers are always encouraged to explore and try out different roles in the various Red Cross Departments to find what they’re most passionate about to help and to help carry out the Red Cross mission to be there when others need it most.

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

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: