The American Red Cross is working tirelessly to help people facing the heartbreaking devastation left behind by Hurricane Ian. Hundreds of trained volunteers from across the country are providing food, shelter and comfort to people affected by this massive storm. Here are some stories about our volunteers and the people they are helping:
WANTS TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE Ellen White is a Red Cross logistics supervisor who traveled from Virginia to Florida to help after Hurricane Ian. She catalogs all the relief supplies in truck trailers so when Floridians call for help, the Red Cross can deliver it to them.
“You have one opportunity to get it, get it right, and get it to the shelters,” she said. “I support the Red Cross, and the Red Cross supports the clients,” insists White. “I will do this until I can’t do it anymore. The clients need all of these supplies. They have been through a terrible disaster, and to not have what they need… I’m here hoping to make a difference, to get the clients what they need, when they need it. All I need is for people to say “thank you”, and even that is more than enough for me.”
PAYING IT FORWARD Army Veteran Mark A. Milia should have spent the weekend sharing laughs and memories with his West Point friends from the class of 1977 at their 45th class reunion. Instead, Milia is supporting relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ian. “This is my way to pay it forward,” he said. “Giving back to my community is important to me.” Milia is part of an emergency response vehicle (ERV) team handing out meals to people in need. In one day, they distributed 4,000 meals. Service is nothing new to Milia who served in retired in 1998 as a Lt. Col after 21 years in the Army. Instead of a quiet retirement in his Florida community, he felt a call to serve as a Red Cross volunteer. He also helped when Hurricanes Sandy and Irma hit the U.S. and is part of the area Sound the Alarm effort to install free smoke alarms in at-risk neighborhoods.
REFUGE FOR PEOPLE AND PETS Heather Barker brought her five kids and two dogs to a Red Cross shelter at the Ocean Convention Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. Barker says she was happy that the Red Cross provided a safe refuge for both children and animals. At the same shelter, Danielle Cave arrived with her cat and dog. She and her family evacuated when their home began to flood "They have everything here for us. They even have a vet here. My dog has allergies and they gave him medicine,” she said.
MOTHER AND SON ESCAPE STORM John Wood and his mom, Diane, are at the Ocean Convention Center in Daytona Beach. Wood woke up during the night as Hurricane Ian roared outside. “Water was coming out of the walls. I looked out the window and my car was literally floating away," he said. His mom says that she has no complaints about their time in the shelter. “Since the Red Cross stepped in, the meals are good,” she said with a smile.
OUR LAST HOPE Clearwater, Florida residents Marianne and Rodrick Roberson have been married for four years and are determined to stay together and shelter together. Unable to weather the storm in their precarious housing situation, the couple took the public bus to the closest stop to the Red Cross Evacuation Shelter at the Ross Norton Community Center. From there, they maneuvered their wheelchairs the few remaining blocks. "The Red Cross is our last hope," said Rodrick Roberson. "With this storm coming, we had nowhere else to go."
CONNECTING WITH THE RED CROSS AGAIN
Outside the shelter in Clearwater, Red Cross volunteers talk with Marine veteran Matthew Kicklighter and his mother, Sharon Inzerillo are at a Red Cross shelter in Clearwater, Florida. This is the second time they have sought shelter with the Red Cross. In 2017, Hurricane Irma forced them from their home on the Florida coast. Kicklighter said the Red Cross shelter was the only place they could think to come, particularly with his mother’s health challenges.
"This Red Cross center was the only place we could think to come. We appreciate the great work you do in the community," Kicklighter said.
At a shelter in Clermont, Florida, Kelly Cochrane says she’s survived two previous hurricanes and a home fire. “When our home burnt down, the Red Cross came to help us. They put us up until we found a mobile home to buy. And besides finding us a place to stay, they got us new clothes and helped us get our medicines,” she said. As a recent widow, she didn’t want to be alone in the storm.” I just didn’t feel comfortable with all those big trees around my house,” she said. So, she packed up some clothes and her medications and came to the shelter. “I can’t say enough good things about the Red Cross.”
HARD TO UNDERSTAND WHAT SHE’S GONE THROUGH Red Cross nurse Lola Ridgley comforted a grieving Alice Flowers in the Red Cross shelter at Hertz Arena in Fort Myers, FL. Flowers’ husband of 60 years was in hospice when Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, and she recently learned that he passed away. Sadly, they were separated during and after the storm swept through the state, and she did not get a chance to say goodbye. Ridgley is a retired hospice nurse, trauma and grief counselor with experience navigating these especially difficult moments. “It’s a lot of help and humanity for one person at a time and showing a lot of compassion, heart and empathy, even though we’ll never probably understand what these people go through or have been through,” she said.
HEROES COME IN MANY SHAPES Hardship comes in many shapes and sizes. So do heroes. Take Frances Robledo of Ona in central Florida. She took hot meals to Roger Ulrich, a neighbor for more than 30 years and good friend of her husband who died from COVID-19 in 2020. Her eldest son also died from the virus that same year. “The hurricane was ugly. Ugly, ugly,” she said. Like many in her neighborhood, she did not evacuate because weather reports tracked the storm to make landfall closer to Tampa. “It wasn’t supposed to hit us. It kept bouncing. What could we do? Just stay here and see if we make it.” Roger still doesn’t have power. The storm pulled down trees, damaging a house already in need of repairs. “This is my home,” said Roger, who has no plans to leave.