When John Fraley of Canal Winchester, Columbus, Ohio, got the call, he had to be ready to answer.
“They called me at nine o’clock at night, and I was on a plane by nine o’clock the next morning,” John said.
He arrived the next day to a Red Cross operations center one-half mile from the largest wildfire in California history, glowing embers enrobing the hills in front of him, ash raining down on him, and the ocean at his back.
“My first impression was: Aren’t we too close?”
John joined the Red Cross Ohio Buckeye Region’s “jump team,” a team of Red Cross volunteers who can be deployed for disaster response at a moment’s notice, after retiring from the military and becoming an empty nester. In nine months’ time, his desire to help disaster survivors has taken him to Houston, Texas, to provide shelters for folks who’s house had been submerged by Hurricane Harvey, to Ventura, California, to provide shelter for those whose homes had been engulfed by the Thomas Wildfire, and back to Columbus, Ohio, to provide shelter for people affected by apartment fires.
“I’ve seen some interesting things at the shelters to say the least,” John said.
“I enjoy it.”
His first deployment on the Jump Team was to Cleveland, Texas, outside of Houston, to help provide shelter for survivors after Hurricane Harvey, which flooded southeastern Texas with historic rainfalls as a tropical storm in late August.
John spent two weeks working side-by-side with other volunteers to manage a 400-person shelter in Cleveland, but also had the opportunity to visit a 10,000-capacity mega-shelter in Houston.
“I was in awe,” he said. “I’d never seen anything like it. It was amazing to see the Red Cross could put this together so quickly and help so many people at once.”
A few months later he was in Ventura at the site of the Thomas Fire. Many, again, were left with nowhere to turn but emergency shelters.
“The people at the shelters, they didn’t know if their house existed or not,” John said. “Some found out that their house did still exist, and some found out that it didn’t.”
Most recently, John was working at a shelter for people affected by a Columbus-area apartment fire, his fourth experience as a shelter volunteer since joining the Red Cross team. Thirty-three volunteers took shifts to keep a shelter open for three days, providing meals, sleeping accommodations, and a warm and secure environment inside a local community center.
“I was just one of the guys that showed up,” John said.
“Our chapter, we can shelter,” he added.
John plans to stay involved as a volunteer through his local Red Cross chapter, and finds that he gets almost as much out of it as the people he serves.
“When you’re in a Red Cross shelter, that’s how the world’s supposed to be,” he said. “Everyone pitches in, everyone helps out, everyone does what they can, and everyone is grateful.”
Could you see yourself helping someone get back to normal after a fire or other disaster? Or would you rather help military families stay in touch? Maybe you enjoy driving and would like to transport blood products to local hospitals. These are just a few of the ways Red Cross volunteers make a difference every day. To find out more, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities