Rod Hamer started volunteering with the American Red Cross nine years ago. At the time he worked for the University of Minnesota providing information to students about what to do in the case of a disaster or emergency, and recruited faculty members to volunteer during times of disaster. Many chose to volunteer for the Red Cross. And, it was their stories that convinced Hamer to get involved.
Hamer has traveled across the country as a Red Cross volunteer. “The best part of volunteering is being able to help these people who are in dire need,” he said. “These disasters create a very important moment in these peoples’ lives and they have to rely on others. Being a part of the Red Cross gives me the opportunity of being on the front lines to provide assistance to these people, and it’s amazing.”
Almost immediately after he first joined the Red Cross, Hamer traveled to Iowa after an EF5 tornado devastated Parkersburg. “This was not only my first deployment, but my first extended deployment,” Hamer said. “In Parkersburg, I first helped open a shelter. Then, I was in charge of driving the ERV and handing out food.” After Parkersburg, he traveled just a few hours south to Cedar Rapids where he became part of the team of Red Cross volunteers helping to provide flood relief. In Cedar Rapids, Hamer was in charge of finding transportation, whether rental cars or shuttles, for the several hundred volunteers who were sent to help.
Hamer’s most memorable moment as a Red Cross volunteer came while working on the east coast after Hurricane Sandy. “We were working in New York by Coney Island and it was election night, so it was November and dark and cold,” he recalled. “We had absolutely no lights except for those provided by the police cars and the ERV. One of the things I remember so clearly is all the people, and how all of them wanted flashlights but we didn’t have enough for everyone. There were elderly people stranded in the tops of these tall buildings surrounding us, on the 40th and 50th floors, who couldn’t come down and get food. They had no electricity and there were young people willing to walk up there with meals to provide to them.”
Over the last nine years of volunteering, Hamer has deployed on 18 national assignments. He has provided relief for all different types of disaster and witnessed many versions of devastation. “[In Alabama,] I noticed a man sitting on a rock next to rubble where his house used to be,” he remembered. “He was so completely distraught, and this rock was all that he had left from his home. These people and the situations that they are in, these are the people who we help as volunteers.”
Recently, he again helped in Cedar Rapids following flooding that destroyed many roads and forced people out of their homes. He said he feels lucky to work for an organization that is able to provide the right information and materials to their volunteers so their efforts and time are used most efficiently. “It’s so chaotic in any situation after a disaster, having the stability the Red Cross provides is very important to the entire process,” he said. “The people going through this are in such a high stress situation and when we as volunteers can get in, and help them quickly it really makes a difference.”
In the future, Hamer plans to continue volunteering, and supporting the mission of the Red Cross. “I feel very appreciative that the work I do helps to provide support to others while they are going through a very difficult time in their lives.”