It is 4 a.m., the phone rings and I am startled. I recognize the voice at the other end and it is not a family member. I breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that this call is not about a tragedy impacting a member of my family. However, a tragedy has struck another family; four families in fact. A fire has engulfed a Barre apartment building and the Red Cross has been asked to assist.
Randy, a long-time Red Cross volunteer is on the other end of the line. As duty officer, Randy took the call from Barre City dispatch. Barre is faced with its fourth blaze in just 48 hours. I am not Randy’s first call. His first is to Corinne, our lead volunteer in the area. It is Corinne’s community that has been struck by disaster and she will head up the response of local volunteers who will extend the helping hand of the American Red Cross to the families forced from their home.
Corinne’s Disaster Action Team, one of 12 across Vermont and New Hampshire’s Upper Valley, is an extraordinary, all-volunteer team. These groups of volunteers are the heart of the American Red Cross. No, they are the Red Cross.
When a large-scale disaster strikes, such as Irene, over 90 percent of those delivering relief on behalf of the Red Cross are volunteers. At local fires, that number is more likely than not going to be 100 percent.
What Corinne shares with her team is that four, perhaps five, families and upwards of nine people are now displaced from their homes. For the fire victims, some have only what they were wearing when the fire struck. For those families, this disaster has thrown their lives into upheaval. They need help. While they may not realize it, their recovery has already begun.
Wearing vests emblazoned with the familiar Red Cross, Corinne’s team arrives at the scene. While many may associate this same iconic symbol of humanitarian relief with large national or international tragedies, that familiar Red Cross is also on scene when an individual family is impacted by very personal disasters such as a house fire. For those families, their fire is just as devastating as any of those “big” disasters.
For some of the fire victims of this Barre fire, family is nearby and limited Red Cross services are needed.
However, for others, they have no place to go and have lost items as irreplaceable as family photos and as basic as food and clothing. The Red Cross arranges lodging at a local hotel for a few nights so that the displaced can get their bearings. Financial assistance is also provided to ensure that food and clothing can be purchased.
More than 130 times over the past year, this scenario has played out across our region. Hundreds of families displaced from their homes and apartments by fire have turned to the Red Cross for help getting back on their feet.
It is our corps of local volunteers who provide relief in their community when their neighbors are in need. They bring the heart, the compassion and dedication necessary to respond. It is up to the Vermont and the New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross, with the support of the community, to ensure that our volunteers have the resources need and that a helping hand is there.
I share this story, this insight, to not only recognize the efforts of our volunteers, but, more importantly, to let people know that their local Red Cross, if needed, can be called upon day or night if they find their own life turned upside down in the wake of a disaster.
Doug Bishop is director of communications and external relations for the American Red Cross.MORE IN Letters
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