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Volunteers Spending Mother's Day Far From Their Families

Several American Red Cross volunteers will spend their Mother’s Day not with their families, but with people whose lives have been disrupted by the string of deadly tornadoes that spun across the South over the past few weeks.

On a day that mothers get lots of hugs and gain special attention, these Red Cross moms will instead be giving out hugs and special attention to people in need after these disasters.

Here are several of their stories.

Jo Gibbons is presently assisting people in Mississippi and will be spending her second Mother’s Day away from her family on behalf of the Red Cross. A member of the staff of the Capital River Red Cross Chapter in Jackson, Mississippi, she previously served as a Red Cross volunteer for more than 20 years. Jo has been deployed to Oxford to serve as site director for the northwest part of the state during the current tornado recovery operation.

“I work for the Red Cross and this is the second Mother’s Day I will be working,” she said. “This year, my youngest daughter, who is eleven years old, will be coming to spend a few hours with me on Sunday. What I do is a big part of who I am. I have to make a living but I don't think I could work for just money. My kids call me ‘Wonder Woman’ and they really think I save the world.”

Donna Martinez is far from her family this Mother’s Day weekend. From Fort Carson, Colorado, she is a Red Cross volunteer helping people in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as they recover from the devastating tornadoes. A volunteer for a little over a year, she is the mother of three daughters ages 20, 16 and 12. Her husband is a U.S. Army medic who was making a parachute jump when she deployed to Alabama on May 3 for the Red Cross. She is working as a Public Affairs photographer at the Belk Activity Center Red Cross Shelter in Tuscaloosa. When asked how she feels about being away from her home and children on Mother's Day, she said, “Honestly, that did not even cross my mind. I didn't even think about it until I heard someone mention it.”

“My family is great and understands I have an important mission,” Donna said. “I feel that it is so important to provide photographs and stories of what the volunteers do and sacrifice in addition to telling the story of what happens. The imagery and stories I provide are vital. It’s important for me to be able to contribute to that mission.”

Tomoko Sommer is a volunteer for the Metro Atlanta Chapter and is providing support to the Tornado Relief call center in Atlanta. She is somewhat disheartened that she will be away from her family on Mother’s Day, but happy that she can provide crucial information, resources and referrals to tornado survivors in search of assistance. A resident of Gwinnett County, Georgia, Tomoko is the mother of two children, a seven-year-old boy and three-year-old girl. She is a native of Tokyo, Japan who came to the United States in 1997 and has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2006. She says she volunteers because she loves helping others.

"When I heard about the storm survivors I was at once saddened by their plight but eager to help out in any way that I could," Tomoko said. “Helping those in need is as beneficial to me as it is to those who I have touched."

Lorraine Jennings is volunteering with the Red Cross in Greene County, Tennessee, working on an emergency response vehicle, distributing food and clean-up supplies throughout the tornado-torn neighborhoods. From Graystone, Tennessee, her own home was damaged when the deadly tornadoes hit the state. She will be away from her husband and two sons, ages 22 and 23 on Mother’s Day and it won’t be the first time.

“I was helping during Mother’s Day last year with the floods in Memphis and it was a bit strange to be away from my family,” Lorraine said. “This time it won’t be weird at all.” What inspires her to serve on this special day? “The satisfaction you get from helping people makes it worth it,” she said. “They’re out there thanking you every day. You live to go out for the next run.”

Pauline Pusey is from Morristown, Tennessee and has been a Red Cross volunteer for two years. She has been helping people in Camp Creek, Tennessee, and will be away from her husband, two daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren on Mother’s Day. Working on a Red Cross emergency response vehicle, she knows the people in Camp Creek have suffered tremendously. “I’ve seen mobile homes wrapped around trees and storage sheds in treetops,” Pauline said. “Some areas are tough to get to because trees litter the roadway.”

For her, it is also not the first Mother’s Day she has missed with her family while volunteering with the Red Cross. Last year, she was helping people affected by flooding in Nashville. “It’s bittersweet because you know people need help,” she said. “Your family needs to know that. Your heart has to be with the people who’ve lost everything. My family knows the community needs me here.”

More than 5,000 Red Cross workers are providing meals, shelter, hygiene and clean-up supplies and health and mental health services to people all across the South affected by the recent tornadoes. The Red Cross has launched 20 separate relief operations over more than half of the United States since March 31, responding to disasters from North Dakota to the East Coast and all throughout the South.