‘Significant need for the Red Cross’: Wisconsin volunteers share Hurricane Ian relief stories

By Tom Ruse and Colton Pemble, American Red Cross

Homes in Harlem Heights, Fla., were deluged with water which caused widespread damage. The streets are now lined with wet furniture, appliances, and personal items removed from people’s homes. Photo by Jodi Long/American Red Cross

Dozens of Wisconsin-based American Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have deployed to Florida these past few weeks to help people through the deadly, damaging aftermath of Hurricane Ian. They’ve joined hundreds of colleagues from across the country in this extensive response and recovery effort.

As a second wave of deployments is underway to continue to meet the housing, food, health and other essentials needs of Floridians after Ian, we asked for firsthand accounts from a trio of Wisconsin disaster volunteers who have returned from their humanitarian trips.

Ryan Clancy

Ryan Clancy has been deployed to numerous disasters over the past few years, including responses after hurricanes in Louisiana and North Carolina. Often in the past, Ryan has helped with sheltering, or helping with recovery after the disaster has taken place.

Ryan, who is a Milwaukee County supervisor and owns a family play place business with his own family, was deployed as a Red Crosser to Pine Island near Ft Meyers, Fla.

“I’ve done many deployments for the Red Cross. I’ve been to hurricanes all over, as well as disaster events close to home, since around 2015 but I’ve never seen damage to the extent Ian did to Pine Island. It was overwhelming.”

“Just like any disaster, everybody’s affected regardless of income or anything else but many of the folks living on the island were in trailer homes and so obviously they took the brunt of it. It really laid bare for me the significant need for the Red Cross to be there assisting”.

Ryan Clancy holds a box of supplies during distribution to people in the hard hit area in and around Pine Island, Fla. Photo by Joy Squier / American Red Cross

With Hurricane Ian, Ryan was deployed as POP, or Point of Presence. In this situation the focus is more on immediate, crucial needs.

“The Ian deployment taught me to listen more. While we hand out clean up kits, food, water and the like, I simply asked, what do you need, and what do your neighbors need.  So this allowed us to identify the needs of folks who couldn’t necessarily come to us.”

“For example, just by asking about neighbors, we were able to identify a household with a gentleman with severe diabetes and was down to one dose of insulin, so we were able to connect him with a prescription.”

“I’m always happy to help and amazed at what I take away from each deployment; connecting with other volunteers, being able to look at the big picture to see how we should relate to each other to help our communities on times of critical need.”

Monica Liesenfeld

Monica recently returned from her most recent deployment, where she served as a supervisor and mentor to new volunteers at the temporary shelter inside the Hertz Arena. At that time, approximately 645 people displaced by Hurricane Ian were calling the minor league hockey arena home.

Monica described the town outside of the shelter as “a hodgepodge of devastation” – “palm trees were topped off and uprooted. Boats were thrown about on streets or smashed against other boats in the marinas.”

Despite this chaos outside, people were able to find some comfort within the shelter, including warm meals, beds and showers. In a touch of Southern hospitality, Monica added that Blue Bunny was contacted and the company generously provided ice cream bars for everyone in the shelter.

For all the physical items Red Cross is able to support, Monica said human connection is just as essential.

“We are an ear to their sorrow,” she said. “We show empathy and compassion. When asked for, our hugs have no boundaries.”

Diane Scheunemann, right, from Merrill, Wisc., empties a supply truck with David Burns, of Ohio, in Florida during the initial response phase for Hurricane Ian. Photo by Steve Pippenger / American Red Cross

Phillip Maier

Phillip has volunteered with the American Red Cross for four-and-a-half years. Most recently, it was a mission to support people after Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.

Last week, he returned from a two-week deployment which started off with a significant road trip. Phillip drove an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Wisconsin to Orlando. From there he continued to travel across the state in Red Cross vehicles to serve food directly in communities that were hardest hit.

One of the times when he was out on a meal run, a couple approached him and said they were not there for food but just that they “saw the red cross and knew that people were here to help.” Nevertheless, Phillip made sure they were fed.

Our volunteer teams need people like you. You can find a role helping people after disasters near and far. Find out more at redcross.org/volunteer.  

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