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National Volunteer Week – Mark Cook

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We listen to them cry…we cry with them sometimes

I joined the American Red Cross in June 2014 after learning that there were volunteer opportunities helping people recover from their disasters. I had always given blood and platelets through the Red Cross and had no idea that their mission went far beyond the realm of blood services. I was sad that I was no longer able to donate blood or platelets because of my health reasons and I was sorry to bid farewell to the Red Cross, as I thought that was the end of my relationship with them. What else could I possibly do to help the Red Cross other than periodic donations?

So when I learned of Disaster Services, I signed up to volunteer. I went through the training and I took as many courses as I could to learn as much as I could about disaster recovery. Flash ahead a year, I became a supervisor on my Disaster Action Team (DAT). Not long after that, I was promoted to Captain of the Plymouth County DAT team. I’ve been to nearly 100 fires and on three deployments, two in South Carolina and my current one in Louisiana where severe flooding has caused over 7,500 homes to be lost.

As I write this, today is my day off. Yesterday was a difficult day, yet a very rewarding day. As a Casework Supervisor on this deployment, I am going from one neighborhood to another. I see complete devastation from the flooding. The folks here have lost their homes and all their belongings. I see pets that have been abandoned and are hungry. I see piles of drywall, furniture, insulation and children’s toys. Stuffed animals that are soiled and soaked. I see folks who are hungry because they haven’t been able to leave their property for days.

I go out with a team consisting of two caseworkers, a health services and mental health worker, cleaning kits and bottles of water in the vehicle. We go to the most affected neighborhoods where we interview the residents. We hear their stories. We listen to them cry. We tend to their medical and mental health needs. We provide the children with little Mickey Mouse toys exclusively intended for the Red Cross’s littlest clients. We issue assistance on-the-spot for lodging needs, food, clothing, etc. We help these folks in their very first days of recovery. We cry with them sometimes…and we almost always leave with a hug.

But, as an animal lover, I make sure I tend to our four-legged clients. In the photo is a little dog I named Benji. I found him wandering the streets, soaked and hungry. He was shivering and very fearful. I know that he’s been going through a lot. I took a ride to nearest store to buy dog food and biscuits, and returned to make sure he was fed and watered for now. I checked on him for a few days. I drove to a nearby humane society; a no-kill rescue group. They went out to the area and later assured me that Benji would be well taken care of. Now I can move on. I carry dog and cat treats, canned and dry food and bottled water in my Red Cross rental car. I’m prepared now to be a Red Cross pet whisperer. What? Is there such a position?

I’ll be on deployment for eight more days before flying home to return to my regular DAT Captain duties; responding to fires and disasters in my neighborhoods. I’m anxious to return home. While I’m here I will hope to make a difference in the lives of my brothers and sisters here in Louisiana, I want more hugs and I want to give more hugs. You can see now, why I’m a Red Crosser. This is my story.