The American Red Cross mission is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. When we say “the power of volunteers,” we talk about amazing people like Helen Miller from Eastern North Carolina. She started volunteering with the Red Cross in 1991 and currently has more than 125 deployments as a disaster volunteer. She’s even served more than once during the same disaster response in different roles.
“Compassion is a thing of the heart,” she says. Helen joined the Red Cross when her husband – a Marine on active duty – was deployed to Kuwait. “I had extra time; my employer was cutting my work hours by 10. I decided to reach the Red Cross office and volunteer. I started answering the phones. I felt the need to help others,” she explained.
In January 2023, Helen was one of many volunteers from all over the coutnry who touched down in California and helped both people and communities affected by the atmospheric river storm systems and subsequent floods. She was part of the feeding team, working hard to make sure that everyone – from the shelter residents to other volunteers and staff members – had hot meals every day. She stayed two weeks on this deployment before returning home.
“I have deployed in all the roles of Mass Care: I have operated several kitchens serving over 4,000 meals daily. I have also deployed as a caseworker and even as an Emergency Response Vehicle driver,” she says. When Helen is not deployed, she serves as Mass Care Lead for the Easter North Carolina Region.
After so many deployments, Helen has all kinds of memories. Some of them happy while others left her with a bittersweet sensation: “In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, our team was delivering meals to affected people. One of the neighbors said ‘be sure to stop at the first house’ so we did. I saw there was a ramp at the entrance. I knew the owner was in a wheelchair. I went up to the door and knocked. I said, ‘This is the Red Cross, we have food’. A woman was living there. She said that her son – who was living in New Orleans – was the one getting her groceries, but she hadn’t heard from him for over a week. We were close to the end of our route, another tornado was coming and our kitchen was closing down until it passed. I asked the lady where her pans were. I went back to the vehicle and filled up the pan with the rest of the food we had and gave her lots of snacks and a case of Ensure. I told her we weren’t going to be available for a few days and this would help her out. She had me lean down to her face to face and put her hand on my forehead and said: “bless this angel that has come to feed me”.
In the Northern California Coastal Region, over 7,000 dedicated and committed volunteers turn their compassion into action, donating their time and energy to serve their communities. Red Cross “everyday heroes” come from all walks of life. Young, experienced, and everything in between: everyone has something special to offer.
“I plan to keep going as long as I am able. I am 76 years of age and very spunky,” Helen says. “My husband served 20 years in the military and now I’m doing my part. He understands and when he hears about a disaster, he knows I will be leaving town soon.”
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