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Red Cross Volunteers Sacrifice Holidays, Down-Time to Serve in Louisiana

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It’s nice to sit in a church sanctuary and talk about helping others; this is about going out and actually doing it.

For many American Red Cross volunteers helping with the flood in Louisiana, Easter Sunday will be a time away from family and friends.

Instead of gathering around a family dinner table or attending church services, this Easter the volunteers will be carrying on with their collective mission of bringing hope and comfort to those whose lives were disrupted by the flooding.

In many ways, it will be another day on the job. But still the Easter message of redemption isn’t lost on Dan and Rhonda Zartman, a retired couple from Athens, Georgia.

“I just see this as love in action,” Dan Zartman said. “It’s nice to sit in a church sanctuary and talk about helping others; this is about going out and actually doing it.”

This is the first deployment for the Zartmans, and it’s all that they had hoped for.

“Just being out where the people are and working to help them get their lives back together, for us that’s what matters,” Dan Zartman said.

Rhonda Zartman said while it’s sad to be away from family and friends on Easter, she’s glad to be in Louisiana.

“We made that choice and what we’re doing is making a difference. It’s carrying the message of Easter. The Lord says to help others, clothe and feed them. Well, that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

If not for being in Louisiana, Charles Jones would be home in San Francisco, California, going to church, hiding Easter eggs and sitting down to a family feast.

“If I had choice – which I do – I’d be here. I would rather here helping people who need help, especially those people who lost everything,” he said. “If I can bring a smile, a little hope – it’s better than being home.”

Bonnie Townsend is a registered nurse who came from Raleigh, North Carolina, who knew she wouldn’t get home in time for Easter. Red Cross nurses always are in demand at a disaster, and this one is no exception.

“I really believe that God would rather have me doing this than being home. We’re giving to those who need it the most,” Townsend said.

Easter isn’t the only religious holiday and Christianity isn’t the only religion among Red Cross volunteers.

Jamsid Kiani from Fenton, Calif., is a member of the Baha’i faith and celebrates Nowruz, the Persian new year which occurs on the first day of Spring. It’s a time to exchange gifts and visit with friends and family.

“The reality is that I would rather be here. My passion is here, to serve the people who need us,” Kiani said.

But it’s not just religious holidays that some are missing to be in Louisiana.

Like many American college students, Hemza Salem of Sacramento, Calif., spends hours in classes and looks forward to Spring Break – that annual ritual of fun and frolic.

Instead of going to Zuma Beach or anoother locale, Salem headed to Louisiana after getting the call from Islamic Relief USA, a Red Cross partner, to help with disaster assessment.

Working with Red Cross volunteers, Islamic Relief members like Salem are helping determine the extent of flood damage to homes. It’s a necessary first step to determine where the Red Cross needs to place its resources and who qualifies for various levels of assistance.

“Helping out here is more important than Spring break. I feel like people here need our help and at this point in their lives where they need all the help they can get,” Salem said. “We’re here to help, no matter your faith. If you are a human and you need help, then we are going to help you.”

RED CROSS RESPONSE

Since the flooding began in Louisiana, the Red Cross has worked with community partners to serve nearly 184,400 meals and snacks; hand out more than 46,200 cleaning kits, personal care kits and supplies such as shovels, rakes and gloves; and provided nearly 2,900 overnight stays in 30 shelters.

Download the free Red Cross Emergency App to have safety information and shelter locations available on your mobile device. The Emergency App features emergency weather alerts to help keep the user safe, and provides information about what to do in during and after floods and storms as well as the locations of open shelters.

HOW TO HELP People in Louisiana need your support today. Help by making a gift to Louisiana Floods. Your donation enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from these disasters. Call toll free via 855-489-2529, or mail a donation with “Louisiana Floods” in the memo line to your local Red Cross or: American Red Cross of Louisiana, Attention: Helene Vance, 2640 Canal St., New Orleans, LA 70119.

The following Red Cross managed or supported shelters were open overnight with more than 130 residents:

Ouachita Parish

• Saul Adler Community Center – 3900 Westminster Ave., Monroe, LA 71201

Richland Parish

• Rayville Civic Center – 706 N. Louisa St., Rayville, LA 71269

Tangipahoa Parish

• National Guard Armory – 746 E. Railwood Ave., Independence, LA 70466

A community-run shelter is open:

Caldwell Parish

• Caldwell Parish Community Center – 6539 Highway 165 South, Duty Ferry, LA 71418

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.