Long-time Disaster Volunteer Joyce E. Tanguay shares her heart-warming Red Cross story.
In August of 2001 my daughter and I traveled to Switzerland. While there, we visited the International Red Cross Museum in Geneva. I was so impressed with all the work they had done that I told my daughter that someday I would volunteer for the American Red Cross.
Not even 4 weeks later the tragedy of 9/11 occurred. As I was watching it unfold on the news all I could think about was how helpless I felt. I knew the Red Cross needed blood and decided that that was the least I could do so I went over to Blood Services on Forest Avenue to give. The lines were so long that they asked some of us to come back in the morning. As I was leaving, I felt a tugging on my heart and remembered my comment to my daughter about becoming a volunteer. “What good will it do now?”, I thought as I rounded the corner and entered the front door.
Fast forward to 3 years later; September 2004. It was Friday afternoon and as I put my hand on the office door to leave work something told me to go back and check my voicemail. I only checked my voicemail when I come in in the morning, so this did not make sense to me. I continued out the door and felt the tugging on my heart to go back. As I listened to the message from the Red Cross asking for Disaster Team volunteers to go to Florida because of the hurricanes I thought, “this isn’t anything that I could do,” and hung up the phone. All the way home I tried to convince myself that they needed people with more training (even though I had spent the last 3 years taking classes, and had been on a handful of local disaster calls.) As I prayed about it God reminded me of how helpless I had felt when the tragedy of 9/11 occurred and now I could do something about it. After praying long and hard and thinking of every excuse in the book as to why I couldn’t go, I found myself at the Red Cross office saying “Here I am, when can I go?” Besides, I knew my husband, my boss and God were all behind me 100 percent!
The next two-and-a-half weeks were life-changing for me. God was with me ever step of the way and opened a place in my heart that I did not know was there. I had absolutely no idea as to what I would be doing or as to where in Florida I would be going. I flew to the staging area in Atlanta to be processed. I knew no one.
It took 3 days to process about 2,000 of us, and finally about 100 of us were flown to Orlando where we were again processed and split up into groups. From there we drove to Martin County where we were taken to a church in Stuart, Florida, that was to be my home for the next two-and-a-half weeks. We worked in teams of three and got up each morning; drove the ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) to a warehouse; loaded it with enough food and water for about 400 people and headed off to feed those in need. Each team was given an area and we covered it until the food was gone and then went back to the warehouse to restock the ERV for a second run.
I have never seen such devastation. Trees uprooted, street and road signs blown over, no traffic lights, mobile homes flattened and the contents strewn everywhere. And I have never felt so humble. Our area was a very poor area and these people were amazing. They had nothing wordly but their hearts were so open and appreciative that I had to fight back the tears on my first day out. I just kept saying “God, you brought me to it, please bring me through it.” I never heard one person complain about their misfortune but I saw many of them hug their neighbors and gather in groups checking on each other as they waited in line for the meager sustenance that we provided. We got to know so many of them and their stories. They never walked away without saying, “Thank you”, or “God bless you” or “You ladies are truly angels.” Every day after our last shift they would ask if we were coming back tomorrow. We assured them that we would keep coming back as long as they needed us and until their power was restored.
Time prevents me from sharing the many blessings I received but I would like to tell you about George, an outgoing Englishman who had a wonderful sense of humor. The first two days that we drove through his neighborhood he stepped up to the window and kiddingly asked us if we had any Yorkshire pudding. Then he would laugh as he took his food and water. On our third day, one of the local volunteers wanted to ride with us. Her name was Nellie. When we got to George’s neighborhood, he again kiddingly asked for Yorkshire pudding. We all laughed and continued on our way. The next day Nellie was supposed to ride with us, again, and at 8 a.m., a gentleman named Neil came to the church and told us that Nellie had to work and that he was her husband and would be riding with us for the day.
Neil had a bag under his arm and you guessed it; Nellie had made Yorkshire pudding! As we started to leave the church, the ERV co-ordinator told Tom, our driver, that he had added some streets to our area. By adding the extra streets we were totally thrown off as far as where George lived because there were no street signs and just piles of debris. We had no idea where to find him so we started praying. I knew that God would not let this one act of kindness by Nellie be in vain. We were driving down a street and I said to Diana, you are not going to believe this but this “feels” like the right area.” I asked Tom to stop the ERV and ask a lady standing there if there was an Englishman named George in this area. She said, “Oh, yes, he lives just a couple houses down; I’ll call him for you. Well, when he came over to the window and Diana handed him his Yorkshire pudding, tears started streaming down his face. His friends gathered around to see what was happening and as he laughed and cried it touched a place in my heart that still brings me to tears when I share the story.
I will never forget my first National Disaster. I know that God put all the pieces together for me to go. He knew that I would go into the Red Cross museum in Geneva. He knew that 9/11 would be the beginning of my volunteering days with the Red Cross. He knew that I was stepping out of my box by going on this Disaster. And he knew that not only would I be a blessing by being obedient to Him but that I would receive more blessings then I could ever have imagined by opening my heart and pouring out His love. And I know that if I continue to listen to that still small voice and recognize the tugging on my heart that I can fulfill his plans for me.
Be obedient and listen; he has a plan for you, too.