Everyone Needs a Place to Sleep

It was an overcast December night, gray and frigid with a steely air, when I got the call. It was my first call as a member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) for the Ohio Buckeye Region of the American Red Cross. I’d done the interview, taken the online training classes, and signed up online for some volunteer shifts, but the first few shifts hadn’t materialized into anything, thankfully. There were no local disasters on those nights, but now there was, and I was on my way to a home fire.

I met with my DAT leader and his wife, the other member of our team, at the Red Cross office. We made our introductions and loaded into the Red Cross disaster response vehicle, a white van with the iconic Red Cross symbol.

It was a home fire in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus that had aroused us from our slumber. As we arrived on the scene, firefighters from the local department were finishing up their work extinguishing the flames that had licked the century-old house. Black smoke stained the siding.

I rejoined my DAT leader, who was identifying the folks who had been living there and making sure they were OK. They were frightened and rattled, but physically OK, huddled on a neighboring porch.

They were two sisters, each with a boyfriend. We brought them into the vehicle and gave them blankets to get them warm. We provided them with toiletry bags and kind words. We talked to them about replacing important documents and where to obtain clothing. We recorded some personal information so we could follow up and gave them information about other resources. We made sure they had a place to sleep that night. We spent maybe an hour with them, sheltered from the cold in the Red Cross vehicle. They were relieved and full of gratitude, so we bid them good luck and good night.

And then we found out our vehicle was dead. The batteries had been drained from the overhead light and the heat, left on to assist with the interviews conducted there. We huddled in our warm coats while we waited for a tow driver to come and jump the battery.

During that time we exchanged stories about family, what brought us to Columbus, and how we got involved with the Red Cross. I peppered them with questions about disaster action team work, they shared some tips of the trade, and the conversation meandered to the various opportunities the Red Cross presents. But of all the things we talked about, one thing stood out.

“The Red Cross helps everybody. If they have survived a disaster and need shelter or food, the Red Cross is there to give it to them,” my DAT leader told me.

I still volunteer with my local disaster action team and make a difference right in my own community. To find out how you can get involved with disaster services or in numerous other ways, go to Volunteer With the Red Cross.

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