On Tuesday, June 17, over sixty volunteers arrived at the Des Moines Area Office for Central Iowa volunteer appreciation and annual meeting. The room was packed with volunteers laughing and joking with their friends, reminiscing on their Red Cross volunteer experiences, including those always occurring unexpected situations, as well as their favorite memories. They were able to enjoy food and drink before being thanked and honored for the work they do throughout the year that really helps make a difference.
But what makes Iowa’s Red Cross volunteers so incredible?
Though they all live in Iowa, they have done all sorts of work for the Red Cross in a variety of locations, each person volunteering in ways that they can best share their gifts. For example, Dennis Kellar, one of the night’s honorees receiving the Outstanding Volunteer Award, commented that one of his favorite volunteer activities is “visiting and sharing during the holidays at [a] V.A. hospital with other veterans.”
Likewise, it is amazing how many of our volunteers work so hard because of the knowledge and friendships they gain from their experiences. Julie Smithart, a volunteer instructor from Ottumwa noted, “As an AmeriCorps member it has been my pleasure to work with volunteers around Iowa as well as on national deployments. Each event has been very educational.”
Of course, part of the reward of working with the Red Cross is having experiences that test mental and physical capabilities. Tim Mallon recounted such an experience he had after a hurricane hit Alexandria, Louisiana:
“The shelter that I was in was a university auditorium. We had 1250 cots and were feeding about 500 people. When the hurricane hit it rained so hard and the wind blew so hard that the roof was leaking. Then the power went off and we had only our flash lights to use. The trash cans started being used to hold all the water from the leaks. The temperature that day was over 90 degrees. The coliseum did not have backup generators or an air conditioner. We had 250 people handicapped that were transported by ambulance. The power was off from 5:00pm to 2:00 am and the temperature rose well above 90 degrees.”
The true test of an organization’s effectiveness is when those who have been offered aid end up becoming volunteers because they believe so strongly in the Red Cross mission. Mary Million is one of these amazing individuals who had to evacuate her home in 1993 because of rising flood waters. She remembers the event:
“We lived on 3rd street [West Des Moines] and the levies broke down on 8th. When we were evacuated we had about 20 seconds before the levy waters reached us. They were almost tall enough to cover the wheels of our car as we left. The American Red Cross came to us, fed us, and helped us until we could get back on our feet. We were without a place to stay for a while because the floods shifted the structure of our entire house. Of all the organizations that provided assistance, the American Red Cross succeeded the most. I was so impressed by what they did. I have been a supporter ever since and started volunteering a few years ago.”
Iowa probably doesn’t have the most volunteers, but we do have volunteers who care about their neighbors and who are always prepared to act when the need arises. With over 15 tornadoes, and numerous cities flooded in Iowa over the summer, as well as many other disasters throughout the United States every year, Iowa’s volunteers have already risen to the occasion to show how extraordinary they can be and proving that ordinary people can help and be heroes at any time.
For all of our volunteers who were unable to make it to the ceremony. We appreciate all the time and hard work that you put in here at the Red Cross. We could not accomplish what we do without each and every person’s help.