They told their stories in the warmth and safety of the Dodge Recreation Center, where the American Red Cross opened a shelter after a fire displaced residents of a Westside apartment complex on the last day of January. At least two dozen people lived in at the shelter at various points during the week it was open.
Among those whom the fire displaced was Jarrylle Walker, who had recently moved from Cleveland to Columbus. Most of his possessions were destroyed in the fire, and he didn’t have a car. With no family nearby, he’d feared becoming homeless again.
Dale Dunlap’s roommate uses a wheelchair. With the help of others, she was able to get him to safety. Because of his particular medical needs, the Red Cross provided them with a room in a hotel.
Three generations of another family also found a temporary home at the shelter. They enjoyed the presence of a family cat, kept in a carrier in a separate room. (The Red Cross encourages people who have pets to make an emergency plan for their care in advance.)
Red Cross Disaster Services volunteers set up the shelter to meet residents’ needs. There was a lounge that served as a makeshift living room, where some played cards while others chatted or talked on their cell phones. They ate hot meals in a cafeteria-style dining room and slept in the gym-turned-dormitory. In another room, nurses provided confidential health services.
While dozens of Red Cross volunteers like Rose Snell and Pam Blum met immediate needs, other volunteers helped those affected by the fire plan for their future. These caseworkers helped residents make connections with local organizations such as Job and Family Services and the Salvation Army, providing vouchers for clothing and furniture along with financial assistance. Another Red Cross volunteer, a certified mental health provider, assessed mental health needs and offered emotional support.
Even in the face of a disaster, people are resilient. In just a week, residents had found homes, replaced important documents, and had resources for clothing and furniture. They were on their way to a new “normal.”
More important, people like Jarrylle found hope.
If you’d like to learn how to be “the best part of someone’s worst day” as a Disaster Services volunteer, visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer/become-a-volunteer#step1. Dozens of other volunteer opportunities are also available, from transporting blood products to working with military families to installing smoke alarms – and more!