An organization like no other

Colerain, North Carolina. Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) and their crews of Red Cross volunteers fed residents of Bertie County, NC who were hit hard by a strong EF3 tornado on Saturday, April 16. Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is an amazing organization! I challenge you to find an organization that can launch a multi-million dollar operation — complete with a location, staff, equipment, transportation and lodging — in less than 4 days…and, factor in that it is during a holiday week and all done by volunteers. Well, that is exactly what the American Red Cross did last week at multiple locations throughout the country. I specifically got to witness the organization work in North Carolina.

If you remember from our blog posts last week, I was deployed with the Red Cross to Raleigh, NC after more than 60 tornadoes touched down in that area, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving thousands without power. It is during moments like these — when a person is in their hour of greatest need — when the American Red Cross puts all of the skills and training to work: sheltering, feeding and providing emotional support to those effected.

Leobardo Olvera and his family are shown at the Heritage High School Red Cross shelter in Wake Forest, NC. The family lost their home when a tornado ripped through the Stony Brook Trailer Park in Raleigh, NC on Saturday, April 16, 2011. (l-r) Lezith, Rosa, Leo Jr, Mario, Leobardo Photo Credit: Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Preparedness Saves Lives
I visited Heritage High School in Wake Forest, NC, which was serving as a shelter to residents of the Stony Brook Mobile Home Park, a sub-division that was hit extremely hard by the tornadoes. It was there that I met Leobardo Olvera, a father of three. Last Saturday afternoon, April 16, Leobardo’s children were skateboarding and playing ball in the yard when Leobarto saw the weather begin to turn. He knew that something bad was about to happen, so he called his children inside and they huddled in a bathtub. The monster tornado passed right over them, lasting in excess of 5 minutes. When they emerged from their destroyed home alive, others in the community were not as lucky.

Red Cross Volunteers give of themselves like none other
Volunteers from throughout the country descended to Smithfield, NC (where the Red Cross set up their headquarters) to assist with feeding, sheltering, damage assessment, mental health, etc. All of these people are volunteers, willing to step away from their family, friends and lives for one, two or three weeks in order to help someone they don’t even know, in a city they have probably never been to. If that isn’t dedication, then I don’t know what is. The Red Cross relies heavily on volunteers, in fact 96% of our workforce is volunteers.

People are resilient
My first full day on the ground in North Carolina was Monday, April 18; many people had already removed trees, debris and other items from the storm. They were beginning to rebuild their lives, but they were extremely grateful for the American Red Cross and the bottle of water, bag of chips or hot meal we passed them as they worked to clean up their homes.

The good news for anyone affected by a disaster — whether it be the house fire in Stuart this weekend or those affected by the tornadoes throughout the country — is that the American Red Cross is in your community, ready to help when you need it the most.

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