Larry Skelton has only worked with the American Red Cross of Massachusetts since October – but he’s already become an experienced volunteer.
The Rehoboth man just returned from a 2-week deployment in Peoria, IL, where he helped folks affected by the tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest.
“A lot of people lost everything,” Skelton said.
Skelton is a retired East Providence crime scene investigator who recently became a volunteer because of the interesting nature of the work.
“It’s natural for me to be woken up in the middle of the night to go a crime scene,” he said. As a disaster volunteer “you get a call at 1 o’clock in the morning to go to a fire in New Bedford, Fall River or Taunton – it’s a good fit for me.”
He was thrilled with the opportunity to help people in Illinois.
Skelton flew out in early November, and initially worked at a multi-agency resource center that served as a one-stop service area for affected residents. As a Red Cross case worker, he registered clients and then guided them through the center, bringing them to various departments to help them with their recovery.
Once that closed, volunteers were moved to a similar but smaller center to continue the work. After a few days, they went out into the community.
“We went to places where we knew the person hadn’t come in to register,” he said. “We went knocking on doors – if there were any doors to knock on – and left papers behind telling them to contact us. We’d usually meet the client somewhere else.”
He said many residents were shell shocked, and just needed someone to talk to. Caseworkers were able to give them funds for bedding, or help them out with money for flood, clothing and seasonal clothing.
“The Red Cross – they don’t discriminate against anyone. Whether you’re a millionaire or you’re poor, we’re going to give you the same thing,” he said.
Skelton, like many other Red Cross volunteers, spent Thanksgiving in Illinois and used some free time to drive out to an old Air Force base – one that his dad worked out of when Skelton was 5.
After the trip down memory lane, Skelton returned to a Thanksgiving feast hosted by a local church.
“They were so wonderful to the people,” Skelton said.
Skelton is glad to be home, but said the experience was an adventure.
He said he’d be happy to do it all again in the future.