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Small 'thank you' makes large impression on Red Cross volunteers

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He said there's no charge — and thanked us for just being there and helping his community.

Volunteer Tammy Salwasser has been supporting the Red Cross through her work for almost four years, so she's seen plenty of kindness as the Silicon Valley teams of which she is part helped many hundreds of people in need.

But during her recent deployment in response to the devastatingly destructive Hurricane Matthew, an uncommonly warm assist from a community member there made Salwasser even more committed to help bring Red Cross relief to people in need.

Salwasser's two-week deployment to North Carolina, one of the states in the southeastern U.S. that was pummeled by the hurricane, began on the first Sunday of October as she and fellow Silicon Valley volunteer Nancy Blodgett were assigned the task of driving a Northern California Coastal Region ERV (emergency response vehicle) from Oakland across the country to the Tar Heel State.

The Salwasser-Blodgett ERV was one of five that regional volunteers drove back east to help the Red Cross effort there support the thousands of people whom Matthew displaced from their homes.

"We drove between 400 and 600 miles a day, and it took us 5 1/2 days to get there," Salwasser says. "We had a designated southern route we were all taking on Highway 40, and we would meet up at the same motel each night."

Once Salwasser and Blodgett arrived in their designated destination — the town of Wilmington — they were assigned the job of ferrying hot meals, twice a day, from a local church to a local shelter.

"The shelter that Nancy and I delivered hot meals to had 30 people in it who were impacted by flooding," she says. "The local Southern Baptist Convention kitchen prepared all of the food, and the Red Cross paid for and delivered it. It was really helpful to people there, many of whom really needed that kind of basic assistance."

But before Salwasser and Blodgett could get to work in North Carolina, they had to bring their ERV in for a routine maintenance inspection. "During the inspection, the mechanics noticed that the air pressure was low in one of the double-rear tires on our ERV," Salwasser says. "Those particular tires needed 80psi [pounds per square inch], but the gas stations in town all topped out at 60psi."

Because it was a Sunday, the Silicon Valley women decided to seek help from the local fire station. "The chief on duty at the time tried to help, but even their air pressure compressor wasn't strong enough," Salwasser says.

Here's the part of the story that touched the pair so deeply. "The chief called a friend in town — a guy named Dean — who owns a tire shop," she says. "Even though it was Sunday, he said 'send them over; I'll open up the shop.'"

The tire shop owner replaced a valve stem that had caused the leak in the first place, pumped up the tire to the desired 80psi, put the tire back on the vehicle, and checked the other tires.

"I told him how very grateful we were and asked what we owed him for his labor," Salwasser says. "He said there's no charge — it was his way of thanking us for just being there and helping his community."

The incident not only touched Salwasser and Blodgett deeply — it helped remind them of the goodness that is exchanged between the Red Cross and the people in the communities where the Red Cross does such impactful work.

Although the tire proprietor wouldn't accept payment for his work, Salwasser did think of one small way she and could say thanks. "I went online, wrote a wonderful review of his business, and put it on Yelp," she says.


Caption: Tammy Salwasser, right, and Nancy Blodgett prepare to depart to North Carolina to help people affected by Hurricane Matthew. (Photo by Virginia Hart)