With the recent hurricanes gone from the Gulf Coast, the attention-grabbing images of torrential rains and winds fade from the general public's memory, and the TV crews and reporters pack up and head to the next big story. But the reality remains. So the American Red Cross stays, quietly and steadily working to take care of people.
AmeriCorps volunteer Keegan Gibson and Red Cross volunteer David West (white T-shirt) make sandwiches behind the Spirit of America trailer in Silsbee, Texas. Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross
Port Allen, Louisiana. Red Cross volunteer Martha Teaster receives a big hug from Jason Wase in Erwinville Community Center shelter. Talia Frenkel/American Red Cross.
More than 11,000 people stayed in Red Cross shelters on Thursday night, most of them in Texas. However, shelters were also still open in Louisiana, as well as Missouri, Ohio and Kentucky, where remnants of Ike caused dangerous floods. In just the previous twenty-four hour period, the Red Cross served more than 400,000 meals and snacks to people in need.
More than 100 shelters are open, because many of those who evacuated from Ike cannot go home yet, and those that left ahead of Gustav returned to find their homes without power, damaged or in some cases, destroyed.
In the New Orleans area, some stores remained closed for more than a week due to the lingering effects of Hurricane Gustav. "You look up sometimes and you don't know where to turn. If you see that [red] cross, you know they're there to help. It's something you can count on," said an inspector working in the area, who, like the neighborhood residents, had no place to buy food or water. Luckily, the Red Cross had an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) there to provide free meals and drinks.
"You came a long way"
For the Red Cross, work begins long before storms make landfall, and continues long after. As the country watches and waits to see where a hurricane will go, the wheels are already in motion at the Red Cross. For large-scale disasters, where the needs of the community cannot be met by the local Red Cross alone, the network of Red Cross chapters comes to lend a hand.
Volunteers from across the country start traveling to areas that need help—sometimes by plane, other times driving hundreds of miles in an ERV, like Jimmy Shotton and Phil Hunolt, volunteers from the Illinois Capital Area Chapter of the Red Cross. After hearing that they had driven all the way from Illinois, one resident in Westwego, Louisiana remarked with a smile, "You all came a long way to help us in this disaster."
Traveling far away on a moment's notice can be hard, as can the work itself, which requires volunteers to be away from their own homes and families for weeks at a time. But although the tasks they carry out are not always the most romantic—setting up cots, unloading cases of food and water, preparing meals for hundreds—it is always deeply fulfilling.
And so the work of the Red Cross continues, after these storms and after countless other emergencies and disasters each year. In the safety of a shelter people sit down to a meal; they read and play games with their children; they seek counseling because they are worried about their future. All this time, the Red Cross is there, giving comfort and staying busy behind the scenes. They take care of strangers without fanfare or fuss, just as one volunteer summed it up: "We're here to do whatever you need us to do."
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year, disasters like the Hurricanes of 2008, by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.