Red Cross Volunteers Help Residents Through Louisiana Floods, California Wildfires

Cindy King, a 28-year Red Cross volunteer, is deployed to Louisiana –from her cubicle at the Red Cross offices in Columbus, Ohio. Every square inch of that tiny cube is in use. The walls are covered with maps attest to the miles her caring covers. A computer manages phone calls; another holds a list of client calls and their requests – everything from diapers to food, lodging, and Creole translators.

To respond to those calls, Cindy has a list of local Louisiana resources. She either provides phone numbers to a caller, or, if the call comes in on her computer, she can transfer it directly to the local resource. The goal, she says, is to get callers the help they need in one call.

“What I think is so cool, is they’re in Louisiana and I’m here and I can still have the same information,” she says.

As a call center supervisor – a new role for her – Cindy is on for 10 days, eight hours per day. She deals with clients directly, and in addition is responsible for seeing that call center agents are trained. Cindy also monitors calls in a kind of “quality assurance” mode. If this monitoring reveals that a call center agent needs coaching, she provides it.

Cindy is one of a new breed of volunteers: virtual volunteers whom the Red Cross deploys to serve on disaster teams from their home locations. As a call center supervisor, Cindy’s days begin at eight a.m., when she logs in, checks e-mail, reviews calls. It sounds like a typical day at the office – except that Cindy is serving clients and supervising call center volunteers hundreds of miles away.

Cindy has been a Red Cross volunteer for 28 years. Her current deployment with the call center is in addition to her “regular” Red Cross position doing virtual financial reporting. In that role, she says, she works with Red Cross volunteers “on the ground” to get a “state of the disaster” report on the resources used that day. It “takes a snapshot” of the various disaster sites.

She does this ongoing work while responding to what will be ongoing needs in Louisiana. The biggest current need she hears is the need for lodging and relocation. Clients also need to replace lost pieces of identification. When your house is filling with water, you grab your keys and run. That means you might not have your driver’s license, Social Security card, and other forms of identification. The local Louisiana 211 is among the resources she offers to meet this and other needs.

Sometimes she hears from callers frustrated at the seemingly slow return to normal. Her response to those challenging calls is one she developed during her career at the Defense Construction Supply Center, where her job involved both computer programming and working with personnel.

“Show them respect, Cindy says. “Give them a smile. They can hear it in your voice.”

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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