By Stephanie Babyak
If you have ever wondered what it would be like to deploy out of state to support an American Red Cross disaster relief operation, then Tolga Oldac’s story might interest you.
A volunteer with the Red Cross of Delmarva chapter, Tolga is always eager to learn new things. His first experience volunteering with the American Red Cross was helping with Afghan repatriation support efforts. Many Afghan families left critical items behind during the evacuation, so the Red Cross helped replace needed basic items, such as prescription medications, eyeglasses, hygiene items, and baby supplies. Red Cross volunteers also offered meals and snacks.
Then in February 2022, Tolga signed up to deploy to Baltimore, Maryland, to assist families affected by a rash of home fires that left many homeless. Home fires are the nation’s most frequent disaster, and claim an estimated seven lives every day in the U.S. Red Cross support following home fire-related emergencies includes providing families with financial resources to meet basic needs, such as warm meals, safe shelter, clothing, medications, and baby supplies. Red Cross workers also provide emotional support to residents dealing with what, for many, is the most challenging time in their lives.
But, in May 2022, when record wildfires ravaged New Mexico, burning more than 600,000 acres and forcing hundreds to evacuate, Tolga saw there was an urgent need for Red Cross sheltering support – so he signed up to deploy.
While in New Mexico he handled the distribution of emergency supplies to meet the urgent needs of families and individuals impacted by the devastating wildfires. He also managed the warehouse and logistics teams and made sure that they had the supplies they needed. He even learned how to drive a fork lift while deployed!
Tolga highly recommends people volunteer for deployment, “I learned many new things and served people who were really in need of help.”
He said he and the other workers “became like a family, living in a group setting, eating meals together, and working together in the common purpose of aiding people in need.” When asked why he volunteered for the assignment, Tolga said, “You feel like you can help people who need your support, who need your heart.”
The American Red Cross responds to a disaster every eight minutes on average. Large-scale disasters like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are increasing in frequency and intensity, resulting in more displaced and vulnerable people who need support. Tessa Lovro, Regional Disaster Officer, National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region, commented, “When community members volunteer with us it allows the Red Cross to use our financial resources to deliver vital programs and services to those who need our help on often the worst day of their lives.”
Volunteers like Tolga make it possible for the Red Cross to respond to an average of over 60,000 disasters annually, most of them home fires. And the Red Cross of the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region needs volunteers to help in local communities and deploy out of state – as Tolga has done.
Theresa Young, Executive Director for the Red Cross Delmarva Chapter, remarked on the importance of volunteers helping in their local communities: “No one organization can be as successful without community involvement; it is you, the community member, that can help us understand the needs of your community.”
Tolga Oldac embodies the spirit of the Red Cross volunteer experience: “The American Red Cross is now my family when I am far away from my family. I am proud of being part of the Red Cross.”
Volunteers are needed now more than ever; and our Red Cross team provides training and support so volunteers are prepared to respond to various types of emergencies and disasters. Click here to learn how you can help!