September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, and the American Red Cross is celebrating by recognizing the many Hispanic employees, volunteers and donors who dedicate themselves to the Red Cross humanitarian mission.
Elda Sanchez was in Decatur, Ala., last year to help families affected by spring tornadoes, and recalls the disoriented look on the faces of a family of six whose home was severely damaged.
“I remember that feeling,” said Sanchez. “That was me in 1992.”
When Hurricane Andrew hit Homestead, Fla., in 1992, Sanchez was going through a very difficult time. She had just gone through a divorce, lost her job and on August 24, almost completely lost her home to Andrew.
“I lost everything,” said Sanchez. “What hurt the most were the keepsakes I lost. I was saving special things to pass down to my children: mementos from Cuba, photos and other cherished items.”
Her home sustained major damage, as did her spirit. “I was very depressed. So many life changing things happened in such a short period of time,” said Sanchez. “Thankfully a friend told me about the Red Cross.”
Sanchez took her friend’s suggestion and met with Red Cross representatives in Homestead for help. The Red Cross assisted her with emotional support and suggested she go to the hospital for care.
After her stay at the local hospital, Sanchez felt stronger and more optimistic about her future. That was when she returned to the Red Cross in Homestead. Not to ask for help, but to give help.
“I clearly understood the pain the people affected by Andrew were feeling, and I knew I could help them,” said Sanchez.
For three months Sanchez volunteered with the Red Cross. Initially she served as a translator and later assisted with records and reports. “I felt satisfied helping others,” she said.
Since 1992, Sanchez has been deployed to numerous disaster relief operations across the country. She easily recounts wildfires in California, a hurricane in Puerto Rico, the tragedy of 9/11 in New York, tornadoes in Alabama and Hurricane Irene in North Carolina.
“It’s incredible to be a part of the best humanitarian organization in the world. I’m proud to be a part of an organization that accepts and helps anyone regardless of race, creed and financial status,” explained Sanchez.
The Hispanic family in Decatur needed help but didn’t accept the Red Cross’ helping hand—at first. They were afraid that the Red Cross was a government agency and resisted any assistance. Sanchez spoke to them and explained that the Red Cross gives assistance to anyone and everyone. She secured help for the family and even referred them to Catholic Charities for additional help.
“I encourage people to volunteer and be a part of the Red Cross. Consider giving your time to help others.”
When Sanchez isn’t deployed, she serves as Quality Control Coordinator for the American Red Cross South Florida Region. She has since remarried her childhood sweetheart and happily resides in Miami.