Stepping out from American Red Cross Heart of Missouri Chapter boardroom and onto the front lines with volunteers on a disaster service call gave Bill Luebbert a new appreciation for the help the organization provides its clients.
“It is an eye opener to see the assistance we do provide,” said Luebbert, a longtime board member who went out with volunteers on Feb. 4 to meet a client whose home and possessions were destroyed in a fire the night before. “Probably a lot of board members don’t understand that. “
Luebbert was taking a turn in the board’s Pass the Vest program, which provides members the opportunity to respond with volunteers when the chapter is called to assist at a disaster.
“Board members are business people,” Luebbert said. “The organization appreciates and values their advice and their ambassadorship for the Red Cross, but unless they do the Pass the Vest Program, they don’t see what’s happening.”
Luebbert served as board treasurer for many years which gave him an outside feel for what the chapter was doing to assist clients. He wrote numerous checks to cover immediate emergency assistance costs, but he’d never looked into the face of a Red Cross client who lost everything until that February day.
“I think it’s extremely valuable,” he said of the Pass the Vest program. “It will be a time I will remember. I hope they call me again when a situation arises.”
Luebbert, who is retired, was at home “doing something that probably wasn’t that important” when a chapter staff member called him around noon to let him know volunteers were meeting later that day with a client.
He went to the chapter office and met with Don Barnett and Sultan Ahmad, two Disaster Action Team volunteers. The three then drove to site of the fire, which was off Route D in Cole County.
They arrived at the scene before the homeowner, but once the client got there Luebbert got to see Red Cross volunteers in action.
“I’d seen the disbursement of a lot of funds being the treasurer, but I’d never been on site to see the emergency response people in person doing what they do,” Luebbert said. “That was interesting to me. I was so impressed with Don Barnett the way he took the client aside and explained in great detail what the credit card amounts of money were and how they could be used. He also explained additional assistance might be forthcoming if he needed it.
“I was really impressed with his knowledge and his ability to communicate.”
While Barnett and Ahmed discussed Red Cross assistance and other options over the hood of the client’s truck, Luebbert, wearing a Red Cross vest and a Red Cross hat, observed.
“I didn’t participate in that because I felt I didn’t know anything about it,” Luebbert said.
He did take the time to talk with the client and offer his support. Luebbert learned during their discussion the client had insurance and employment.
“He was distressed that there was work that needed to be done and he wasn’t there to do it,” Luebbert said. “He was concerned he was losing a day’s work.
“I tried to be comforting by reminding him that since he had insurance and a job the he was going to land on his feet. I told him even though he lost things in the fire he was going to be okay. I also told him you need to get done what you can do and get back to work. Work is therapeutic. You go to work and you are focusing on something other than what’s really bothering you.”
The event was a learning experience for the veteran board member.
“I had a huge amount of empathy for the person who was standing there,” said Luebbert, also a longtime Red Cross blood donor. “I came away with a huge amount of appreciation for what the Red Cross does even though I had witnessed that from an office perspective.”
Luebbert said he would like to go on more calls with volunteers.
“I came away with a new appreciation for the empathy the volunteers expressed and how they carried that forward to the client,” he said. “I was really impressed with what the volunteer had to say and the method he brought it across.”