More than 140 American Red Cross disaster workers are in eastern Alabama, helping people impacted by the deadly tornadoes that tore through the region earlier this month.
Among them are Jennifer Ryan, a Public Affairs Disaster Volunteer for the Red Cross. The following is her account of a disaster that hit close to home, the Alabama tornadoes.
WHEN DISASTER HITS HOME
“My first Red Cross disaster response experience came in 1992, after Hurricane Andrew devastated Florida. Since that time, I have served in various roles and have deployed on many disaster relief efforts; but, I will never get used to witnessing tragedy. This week, tornadoes swept through my own county and right now the destruction and pain are as real and as raw as it gets.
“Tuesday, I began my day by attending a prayer service for a 10-year old girl who lost her life during the storm. She was a 4th grader at my son’s school. I did not know her personally, but as we prayed together that morning, it felt like she was everyone’s daughter, like she belonged to all of us. We were painfully aware that it could have been any one of us, or all of us, facing this tragedy. The pain of losing a child is one of the most horrible things I can imagine. Another is the pain of losing multiple members of your family all at once; and sadly, many of our neighbors are now facing those realities and heartaches.
“After the prayer service, I headed out with two fellow disaster workers in one of our Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles to bring warm meals to people in areas most heavily impacted by the storm. I witnessed people who lost homes and loved ones sifting through rubble trying to find any scrap of their lives. I gave the gloves off my hands to a young girl whose hands were almost frozen and torn and bleeding from digging in debris. If the truth be told, I gave her a bit of my heart as well. Our feeding efforts paused as we made way for the coroner’s vehicle to pass. I held my breath, but not my tears. I don’t have words to describe to you what I witnessed, but I know I will never be able to wipe it from my memory.”
Kathy Scruggs, Division Disaster Director for Alabama and Florida, rode on the feeding vehicle with me. “What stayed with me the most is how, no matter how much they had lost, the people we talked to wanted to make sure others were cared for first. They were reluctant to even take a hot meal, because they felt like someone else may need it more,” Scruggs said. “Of course we assured them there was plenty for everyone, but the selflessness of the storm survivors really touched me.”
RED CROSS RESPONSE These tornadoes destroyed almost 200 homes and damaged more than 340 more, leaving hundreds of residents homeless or displaced. In the aftermath of the tornadoes, Red Cross workers are supporting shelters, serving meals and providing other assistance to those in need of help. The Red Cross is also working closely with government and community partners, such as the Salvation Army and United Way and local faith-based organizations, to coordinate relief efforts.
VOLUNTEERS LEND A HAND Peter Simmons and Jane Jenkins didn’t know each other before the tornadoes hit Alabama, but teamed together to man a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle and travel through the affected neighborhoods, providing hot meals, snacks and water to survivors.
“I’m happy to be able to help,” Simmons said. “I worked as an EMT previously and that experience combined with the Red Cross training allows me to see people in their worst moments and calmly offer them aid.”
Jenkins credits the extensive Red Cross training with preparing her to respond. “Whatever you want to do, the Red Cross will help you do it,” she explained. “The Red Cross is so welcoming. They provide the help, encouragement, support and training to allow you to work in multiple areas and find the best fit for you.”
Last year nearly 372,000 individuals volunteered their time for the Red Cross. Are you looking for a way to make a difference? Become a Red Cross volunteer – there are lots of ways you can help. To find out more, including how to apply, visit the ‘Volunteer’ information on redcross.org.
HOW YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by disasters like storms and countless other crises by making a gift to American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Call, click, or text to give: visit redcross.org, call 1-800 RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
CORPORATIONS HELP The generous donations from members of the Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP) and the Disaster Responder Program enable the American Red Cross to prepare communities for disasters big and small, respond whenever and wherever disasters occur and help families during the recovery process.
ADGP $1 Million members are: American Airlines; Anheuser-Busch Foundation; Anthem Foundation; Bank of America; Brown & Brown Insurance; Caterpillar Foundation; The Clorox Company; Costco Wholesale; Delta Air Lines; Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation; FedEx; The Home Depot Foundation; LDS Charities; Lilly Endowment Inc.; Lowe's Companies, Inc.; Mazda North American Operations; Microsoft Corp.; Nationwide Foundation; PepsiCo Foundation; State Farm; Verizon; VSP Global; Walmart and the Walmart Foundation; and The Walt Disney Company.
ADGP $500,000 members are: 21st Century Fox; Altria Group; AmazonSmile; Aon; BMW of North America; Capital One; CBS Corporation; Cisco Foundation; Citi Foundation; Darden Foundation; Delta Dental Community Care Foundation; Discover; Energy Transfer/Sunoco Foundation; Ford Motor Company; General Motors; Grainger; Humble Bundle; IBM Corporation; International Paper; John Deere Foundation; Johnson Controls; LHC Group; Medtronic Foundation; Merck Foundation; Mondelēz International Foundation; New Balance Foundation; Nissan; Procter & Gamble Company; PwC Charitable Foundation; Sands Cares; Southwest Airlines; Target; TD Ameritrade; The TJX Companies, Inc.; United Airlines; UPS; The USAA Foundation; The Wawa Foundation; and Wells Fargo.
Disaster Responder Program members are: 7-Eleven Cares Foundation; Adobe; AdvoCare International L.P.; Alliance Data; American Express; Assurant; AstraZeneca; AT&T; AvalonBay Communities, Inc.; Avangrid Foundation; AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company; The Ball Foundation; Barclays; CarMax; Choice Hotels International; Cox Automotive; DICK’S Sporting Goods; Duke Energy; Edison International; Entergy Corporation; GE Foundation; Harbor Freight Tools Foundation, LLC; Hewlett Packard Enterprise Foundation; HP Foundation; Ingersoll Rand Foundation; The J.M. Smucker Company; Land O’Lakes, Inc.; Mastercard; Neiman Marcus Group; Northrop Grumman Corporation; Northwestern Mutual and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation; Prudential Financial; Raytheon Company; Rodan + Fields Prescription for Change Foundation; Ryder; SC Johnson; Security Finance’s Lending Hand Foundation; Southeastern Grocers Home of BI-LO Harveys Winn Dixie; The Starbucks Foundation; Tata Consultancy Services; Toyota; U-Haul International; United Technologies Corporation; U.S. Bank; and Visa.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.
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