Three long weeks have passed since the storms began and flooding destroyed the livelihood of thousands in the Midwest. While many residents have been able to return home and begin the cleanup process, some families in Iowa have not been as fortunate. The American Red Cross continues to run 5 shelters in Iowa with the help of people trained at the facilities, giving hundreds a safe place to stay, while they await the go ahead to return home, or prepare a long term plan if going ‘home’ is no longer an option.
“The Red Cross has been great. We are like a family,” is how Cedar Falls, Iowa resident Kati Renishaski describes her flood shelter experience. “They have made me feel at home, when I didn’t have one anymore”.
The 30-year resident of the area lost everything when flooding destroyed her home. “I was lucky to get out alive. I only left with the clothes on my back, barefoot,” she said.
Renishaski has been staying at the shelter on the campus of University of Northern Iowa since flood waters overwhelmed her city. When the flooding was at its worse, the shelter was temporary home to almost 150 local residents.
Mike Redlin, acting manager of the shelter, and his volunteers worked hard to meet the needs of a diverse population. For example, “We helped move special needs clients to better facilities, where they could get the care they needed. Being a part of that was very rewarding.”
Red Cross shelter volunteer Faye St. Germain carved out a special role on the shelter staff. “Call me grandma,” she said. “I’m grandma to you all.” She brought a steady supply of smiles, hugs and laughter to residents and volunteers alike.
St. Germain knows how important that is in the wake of a disaster. “Years ago I lost my home to a disaster. I lost everything,” she recalled. “The Red Cross helped me then. I took five years to rebuild my life and then joined the Red Cross to give back to others.”
Alyssa Knock, 3, and sister, Hailey, 2, passed the time with coloring books in a Red Cross shelter in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
She has helped out with seven different disasters with the Red Cross over the last year. “It’s what I do. I have the time. I want to help.”
Special Attention Paid to Kids
Keith Harrison and his two young children are making the best of a difficult time.
“The kids are fine. There’s other kids here to play with. It’s been super for them. They don’t even think it’s an emergency,” said Harrison, who has been living in an American Red Cross shelter in Iowa City since his Coralville, Iowa, neighborhood was flooded more than a week ago.
His son Isaiah, 18 months, pushes a tiny pink doll stroller while 5-year-old Jasmine plays video games. Harrison said if it wasn’t for the Red Cross, they would have had to drive 250 miles in a downpour to stay with family members.
For families like Harrison’s, who are waiting for the go-ahead to return to their homes, shelter life can be tedious. Iowa City residents and organizations have offered to help entertain kids in the shelter and give adults a much needed break.
“We had the lady from the library here reading stories to the kids…Parks and Recreation came in the afternoon,” Red Cross shelter volunteer Shirley Woodard explained. “We even had a chiropractor come in. That went over well.”
Shelters are only a temporary place of residence until residents are able to leave and move on with their lives.
Crystal Drew was moving on, at least in her plans. She took shelter along her fiancé, mother, sister and two-month-old son after flood waters destroyed both her home and her mother’s. Now her focus is on making a new home for her son and on making plans for her wedding, which is set for two months away.
“I don’t know where we would be; the Red Cross saved our life,” Drew said.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and counsels victims of disasters; provides nearly half of the nation's blood supply; teaches lifesaving skills; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization – not a government agency – and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its humanitarian mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at www.redcrosschat.org.