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Red River Communities Display Stoicism, Volunteerism


Jackie Crawford and her husband learned to appreciate the generosity of the American Red Cross and its donors when waters from the Red River surrounded their home and forced them to evacuate by boat.

The Red Cross provided temporary housing for Crawford after that flood in 1997, but the aid gave her something much more lasting: the inspiration to join the Red Cross as a volunteer in disaster mental health.

This week, as the Red River again menaced Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo, N.D., Crawford joined more than 100 Red Cross workers to help address the needs of residents as they prepared for the river’s crest.

With most of the workers coming from the affected communities, the Red Cross response underscored the resilience and resourcefulness of the residents of an area that is regularly threatened by flooding.

“This community is remarkable in that they’ve been fighting floods for a long time,” said Jay Beech of Moorhead, who joined the Red Cross workers as a first-time volunteer this week. “There’s a certain stoicism. They go about this work in a positive and deliberate way.”

But even the stoic need support. Crawford, who spearheaded a community-wide mental health initiative after the March 2009 floods, admitted that she was bothered to see the return this year of dump trucks full of sand, and water lapping over familiar roads.

“I found my stomach knotting up,” she said.

But Crawford reminded herself of the coping advice she offers as a Red Cross volunteer and as a full-time worker at the Lakeland Mental Health Center in Moorhead, and she found her way to join her fellow Red Cross workers in assisting her neighbors.

At the headquarters of the Minn-Kota Chapter of the Red Cross, volunteer Nancy Young rounded up the food that would sustain her fellow workers. In another chapter office, faculty and students from the School of Nursing at Concordia College in Moorhead signed up as volunteers—bolstering the health services offered by the Red Cross, whether in shelters during disasters or in communities year round.

Out in the field, 30-year Red Cross volunteer Jerry Walker was paired with Beech, who spontaneously joined the Red Cross because, he said, “I was confident in the kind of organization it is.”

Walker navigated a red-and-white Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) through the neighborhoods as Beech and his 15-year-old son helped distribute snacks and beverages.

“A lot of these folks are very, very organized on a neighborhood level,” Beech said. “There will be a humvee with a solder at the entrance to a neighborhood. Then groups of volunteers are forming sandbag lines and moving from one home to the next….We dropped off sandwiches, coffee and bottled water….Giving food to tired and hungry people is a fun job.”

From seven ERVs and at six feeding sites near sandbagging operations, the Red Cross has served more than 12,000 meals and more than 28,000 snacks to workers and residents in the Red River area.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker was among those who received a sandwich from Red Cross workers during the flood preparations. He jokingly asked for condiments and then turned serious about the help his city has received.

“I wouldn’t want to go into a major event like this without the Red Cross,” he said.

Across the Red River from Fargo, Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland echoed Walaker’s appreciation: “We rely on the Red Cross to keep our community fed and supported at times like these.”