The coronavirus abruptly changed the Hellenbrand family’s lives with stay-at-home orders, a layoff and other uncertainties. Then a fire tore through their apartment building.
“It’s a disaster on top of a disaster,” said Seth Hellenbrand, who was displaced with his wife, Rachel, and their young son.
After losing nearly everything, the Hellenbrands and their neighbors relied on the support of the American Red Cross, which worked with community partners to provide refuge, meals and other necessities at a local hotel. Red Cross volunteers also helped replace Seth’s eyeglasses lost in the fire and provided recovery support to guide the family through their next steps.
“To have the Red Cross there to help take those tasks off our hands, that has been appreciated,” he added.
The Hellenbrands are among more than 53,000 people helped by the Red Cross after more than 13,000 home fires since February, when the coronavirus outbreak began to escalate in the U.S.
To protect everyone’s safety with social distancing, Red Cross volunteers are working with local fire departments to connect with families by phone or video calls, offering a sympathetic ear and linking them to available support, such as providing hotel stays and emergency financial assistance.
While Red Cross volunteers have adapted their physical response to home fires, their commitment to helping people in need remains unwavering.
‘A SHOW OF GRATITUDE IN THEIR EYES’
Every day when a home fire upends a person’s life, Enrique Rivero is one of the Red Cross volunteers who helps to address their urgent needs.
Because of the pandemic, volunteers like him can’t give a hug in person. But by phone or video call, he can still “try to listen and be sympathetic to their case. Let them know we are there to help in any way we can, even during this pandemic.”
“They need someone’s voice at least to reassure them,” he said.
Even virtually, this comfort resonates.
“When we conduct a video interview, even in their worst moments for them, we can see a sliver of smile, a show of gratitude on their eyes,” Rivero added. “They know they have something to cling to during a disaster.”
RED CROSS ‘GAVE ME A SENSE OF SECURITY’
In the panic of fleeing an apartment fire, Carol Aponte remembered to grab her mask and gloves — a sign of the times.
“I started running and running, and I passed by all my neighbors and I just kept going and going,” she recalled about keeping her family away from the fire scene and maintaining social distancing.
Several blocks from her home, Aponte placed her family in the safety of her brother’s care and made her way back. In front of her building, she found a Red Cross worker waiting for her at a safe distance to provide guidance, reassurance and financial assistance.
The days after the fire have been challenging, but there have been signs of hope. With the help of a Red Cross worker and her building superintendent, Aponte was reunited with her cat, Boots, who survived the fire. She has a temporary apartment and is comforted by the presence of her children, grandchild and pets.
Aponte says her family, friends, local church and the Red Cross have been instrumental as she seeks to rebuild her life.
The Red Cross “gave me a sense of security in which everybody needs in this very moment,” she said.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
This is the time to take care of one another. Please join us to help people in need:
- Donate: Generous donations make the Red Cross mission possible. Donate at redcross.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). A gift of any size makes a difference.
- Volunteer: Our need for volunteers is constant and continues to evolve as we navigate this health crisis. Visit redcross.org/volunteer for opportunities, including ways to provide help from home.