Sheltering Body and Spirit

June 2nd was just another typical Friday afternoon for members of the Central Ohio Chapter of the American Red Cross. The work week was winding down when the Disaster Services Department received a phone call. A fire had occurred in a nearby apartment complex, affecting 42 units and leaving 80 residents unable to return to their homes.

Red Cross Disaster Services staff began calling up volunteers in the area to form the Disaster Action Team that would respond to the need. The team arrived on the scene and began to assess material needs and provide the vital emotional support needed in the midst of a disaster

One of the immediate needs was shelter. Possible shelter locations are determined before the need arises, so the Red Cross knew that the Columbus City Preparatory School for Boys would be available.  In fact, the school year had ended there just the day before.

The school was transformed and became a temporary home for eight people with nowhere else to go. Red Cross volunteers quickly began organizing, providing people food, drink and beds along with a friendly face. And no one’s face is as friendly as Bob Criswell’s.

Bob has been volunteering for the Red Cross since 1997. He has lent a hand through numerous disasters, including national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the September 11 attacks.

“We make sure they’re all comfy, as close to being home as we can,” he said. “Plus, we’re here to help with their stress.”

In addition to providing immediate needs for those affected, the team began helping them through the recovery process. Because human beings are resilient, Red Cross involvement with those who’ve survived a home fire typically lasts just a few weeks. People might need a little help figuring out “next step,” however.

“We’re making a lot of calls on their behalf,” said Keith Parrill, another Red Cross volunteer. “We’re talking to the landlord, seeing how the building is handling things. We’re calling up insurance and shelters in the area and finding places for these people to go to. We’re the middle man for people who don’t know what to do next.”

By Monday afternoon, the shelter’s 24-hour closing notice had been posted. It had been a long weekend for both those whom the fire affected and the Red Cross volunteers.

“It takes a lot to run a shelter,” said Keith, “but we’re here. Even if it’s only one person, we will run this shelter to the best of our ability.”

Keith and Bob volunteer in just one of the many areas of service the American Red Cross offers. Whatever your skills and interests, there is a way for YOU to serve! Visit to find out how.


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