“Thank you, Miss Tonda! Thank you, Miss Tonda!” called a young woman as she left the Lockhart shelter to catch an overnight bus to Gainesville, Fla. Tammy Parsons, 26, headed to Florida to move back in with her mother, who she hadn’t seen in over a decade. Miss Tonda is actually American Red Cross volunteer caseworker Tonda Hatchett, 43, who helped reconnect the two after Parsons lost everything in the 2016 historic Louisiana floods.
“I’m upset about the things I did lose; but I’m not as upset about it now, because I believe everything happens for a reason and I believe that in some way like it brought me home to my family,” said Parsons. Hatchett and the Red Cross provided Tammy the support and the bus ticket to return to Florida.
Though Hatchett got to the Lockhart shelter only three days before it closed, she took the time to get to know each of the residents individually to determine how she could help their unique situations—including reconnecting another young woman with her mother after her paternal family left her in the shelter alone.
“Don’t be demanding and tell them this is how it’s gonna go—help them, ask them, talk to them. Let them know that you care, that you aren’t just here as a body to move them out, you’re here to help them,” said Hatchett of the residents she worked with. “And that’s what the community needs to know.”
Hatchett and Parsons formed a lasting friendship, and the two have continued to keep in touch after Tammy Parsons returned to Florida.
“She checked on me during my trip to make sure I was safe and the trip went okay,” said Parsons. “She called me when I got here to make sure I met up with my family okay and she called me a few times after that and to see how I was able to go on so far in Florida.”
Tonda Hatchett wasn’t the only Red Cross volunteer who left an impression on Tammy Parsons by showing they cared.
“Every single person who volunteered at the one shelter I was at—pretty much everyone was amazing,” reflected Parsons. “Everybody was kind. Everybody was patient. It set an example, whether you work for a charity organization or not, it set an example for other people for how you should treat people who you meet who are down on their luck or who suffered misfortune in some way.”
Tonda Hatchett has been a Red Cross volunteer caseworker for the past two years, and Louisiana is her third physical deployment—she has done virtual casework for two other disasters. She headed home to Michigan to get back to her job, but will continue her work for the people of Louisiana virtually.
“I know how it felt to have nobody stand for me. I was a single parent, I was near homelessness with my daughter,” Hatchett said.. “I just put myself in that person’s shoes, what if it were me? What if it was my daughter, what if it was my family member, would I want somebody to help them?”
“She has just been amazing,” Parsons commented. “The Red Cross has been amazing.”