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Why I Help
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Andrea Coan, Red Cross Volunteer Journalist
March 14, 2010

Mary and Tom Tift have been volunteering at the chapter for the American Red Cross of Greater Kalamazoo Area for over 15 years. They don’t seem to mind the 12-hour shifts, seven-days-a-week frantic pace for family service volunteers on the Red Cross Disaster Action Team. And, in their disaster relief roles, they've brought respite to people suffering the aftereffects of wildfires, floods, and tornados. According to Mary Tift, “People face the most terrible events time and time again, and we just marvel at their resilience.” She remarked that she is always so impressed "to see people display so much courage and fortitude” after what they have suffered.

Mary and Tom Tift of American Red Cross Greater Kalamazoo Area Chapter, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Mary and Tom Tift of American Red Cross Greater Kalamazoo Area Chapter, Kalamazoo, Michigan

Mary remembers the experience of the September 11th disaster where she answered calls from victims of the tragedy. “I was talking to widows and mothers and providing assistance, ... it was a very intense experience” she remarked. She had lots of interview practice from working 50 years at a newspaper. “I loved volunteering [with Red Cross] because after many years of being an impartial observer I was able to do something that impacted people,” said Mary. She also loves meeting new people, and proudly stated, “We make friends on every disaster we go to and that’s a really [nice] side benefit.”

Tom Tift worked as a high school vice-principal before retiring and joining the American Red Cross. He thought that “it seemed right up my alley because it involved travel and helping people." Tom exclaimed, "It turned out to be a perfect second career.” With a lot of training and disaster guidelines, the Tifts’ expressed that their second career isn’t something they can do halfway, but the hard work isn’t on their minds when they arrive on the scene. “It’s like the rest of the world just fades away,” Mary said. When they are providing relief, their main priority is to make sure the immediate need for food, clothing, and shelter is met at a disaster site.

“Each disaster has its own personality,” observed Tom Tift. According to him, there are many subtle differences between a large scale disaster and a smaller disaster. The presence or absence of a major party, like the federal government, directly affects how relief can be administered. But through any disaster, the Tifts will keep going strong because according to them the smile on the victim’s [face] that they help is the greatest of payback of all.


About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; 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 mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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