Originally from Wisconsin, Tom Rheinschmidt moved to Vero Beach six years ago after retiring from a career in mining operations. He joined the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast Chapter of the Red Cross in October 2022 and has since deployed twice to assist with disaster relief operations around the country. As a Red Cross volunteer, Tom is part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) and has helped manage facilities and distribute emergency supplies after a disaster. Earlier this week, Tom and other Red Cross volunteers boarded a flight bound for Guam to assist in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Mawar.
On Wednesday, May 24, Typhoon Mawar passed over the U.S. territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as a Category 4 storm, bringing hurricane-force winds and torrential rainfall. It is the strongest storm to hit the U.S. Pacific territory of more than 150,000 people in two decades.
In Guam, Tom will help to distribute supplies such as emergency kits, clean-up kits, tarps, water and other necessities to the residents impacted by the storm. As people start to clean up after the storm, Tom and other volunteers will venture into the hardest-hit communities to provide these much-needed emergency supplies so that residents can begin recovering. Tom’s experience volunteering with local organizations and churches and even as a firefighter and EMT equips him with lifesaving skills to play an essential role in the Red Cross response to Mawar.
Since joining the Red Cross, Tom has deployed to two other disaster relief operations. In November 2022, he traveled to Florida’s west coast to assist after the destruction and devastation left behind by Hurricane Ian. This deployment was special to Tom since he personally knew some of the residents affected by Ian. Tom recalls that after his volunteer shifts with the Red Cross, he would visit his friends to help them clean up and repair their homes. Most recently, he traveled to northern California to help residents affected by the back-to-back atmospheric river storms, which produced floods, power outages, forced evacuations, landslides, sinkholes and downed trees damaging hundreds of homes.
Volunteering has always appealed to Tom, and he was particularly interested in responding to disasters in the South Florida region. The Red Cross stood out because “they’re always doing good,” said Tom. Whenever he puts on his Red Cross vest, he feels acknowledged and appreciated. “People notice you. They come up and say ‘thank you.’ I’ve even had people buy me meals. It’s very rewarding,” he explained. During his time as a volunteer, Tom met many other dedicated Red Crossers during his deployments and shared that “everyone is there for the same reason: to help people.”
More than 130 trained Red Cross disaster workers are on the ground now, with more humanitarian help on the way. The Red Cross is working with local village mayors to identify community distribution sites for impacted residents and is supporting feeding in community-run shelters. With local emergency management, government officials and federal partners, the Red Cross will continue to provide life-sustaining services and resources across the Pacific islands.
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. Visit redcross.org, call 800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Written by Dariana Molina, American Red Cross Public Affairs