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Giving during a disaster: Jamie Barry

Red Cross Mass Jamie Barry
Hearing a disaster victim’s story is the first part of my job.

Nearly 200 times a day, the American Red Cross helps a family affected by a disaster. Fires and natural disasters are among the most common tragedies that strike communities, displacing families, taking possessions and altering lives.

When vehicles and volunteers arrive emblazed with the iconic red cross, communities and families know help has arrived.

In early April, Jamie Barry, a recovery program specialist with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts, heard of an urgent need for volunteers in Kentucky where a series of spring storms dumped a month’s worth of rain in an eight-hour period. A line of severe thunderstorms moving across the Ohio River Valley let loose a torrent of rain totaling up to seven inches in the Louisville metropolitan area, causing flash floods that displaced hundreds of people.

“Most people have never been in a disaster before and they don’t know how to deal with what occurs, what to do next, or who to talk to,” said Barry, who responded to the Louisville floods from her home office in Cambridge, Mass. “They have a hard time finding people who can relate with the situation. Most times family and friends have never had the experience. Hearing their story is the first part of my job,” said Barry.

Barry went to Kentucky as a case worker, going into neighborhoods, most times street by street, to find people affected by the flash floods. Knocking on doors and speaking with people is what compelled her to volunteer to go into area affected by crisis.

“We’re trying to make a connection with people, giving them the opportunity to let out their feelings,” said Barry. Those affected tell their entire story to case workers, often the first people offering help. Barry said they talk of pictures, music instruments, and memories that were often swept away in a disaster. And while Red Cross volunteers can’t replace their memories, a comforting person willing to listen and see what needs can be filled is what motivates American Red Cross volunteers all across the United States.

Barry has deployed to two other disasters in the United States. First was Hurricane Sandy, where she worked in shelters to ensure displaced residents had a place to sleep and recover from the storm. Her next trip was to Colorado after flash floods destroyed homes and buildings. The power of the water displaced people and made the homes that were not destroyed dangerous to enter. Much of her work in Colorado was done in areas cut off by the flooding.

Just as important as empathetic volunteers are the donors who provide the humanitarian assistance so badly needed in times of disaster. Every response vehicle, blanket and meal served is due do in large part to contributors both large and small. Large donors like the TJX Companies make it possible for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts to pursue campaigns to reduce the number of deaths involved in home fires. Citizens through their donations fund American Red Cross operations across the state, coordinating blood drives that supply life-saving products to fellow citizens.

An American Red Cross response, like the one in Louisville, happens every day around the country. The public’s donations in the form of supplies and comfort go directly to those in need across Massachusetts and the nation.

On a day-to-day basis, Barry manages the types of cases she handled first hand in Louisville. At any one time, Barry has between 80 to 100 cases open, spanning all of Massachusetts. The majority of the cases come from home fires.  Volunteers arrive at the scene and immediately begin assessing how the American Red Cross can assist the families affected. Much of the time this assistance takes the form of a hotel stay and money to help purchase food and everyday items, small things that are of substance to someone who has lost nearly everything.

The iconic red cross symbolizes help and the humanitarian spirit. Help in the form of a blanket and an embrace around the shoulders of a mother and son displaced by a fire. Help stored in a unit of life-saving blood given after an earthquake shook a community half-way around the world.  Help by a disaster assistance response team after a neighborhood is devastated during a flash flood.

Images of a community devastated by a tornado, a hurricane or a flood are powerful, and those images spur individuals and corporations to reach out to the American Red Cross and donate.

Giving Day is June 2nd, a day in which the American Red Cross will raise money ‘All In 1 Day’ to help employees and volunteers put donations to work where they are needed most, in the cities and towns all across America. Visit the Giving Day website at  to schedule your donation.