Having responded to numerous disasters over the course of almost 20 years, Josett Valdez, Regional CEO for the American Red Cross South Florida Region, flew to Baton Rouge, Louisiana just 24 hours following Hurricane Ida’s destructive landfall. Even with nearly two decades of experience, she shares, “I have come to learn each disaster is different and no matter how much you prepare for what it will look like when you arrive, you are never really prepared.”
When Josett arrived in Baton Rouge, the power was out, places to eat were scarce and on a hot summer day, there was no air conditioning to be found. But the one thing you could find were Red Crossers ready to help. Early the next morning, many set out with water, snacks and ready-to-eat meals where some volunteers would drive six hours round trip to make sure people in the communities impacted had what they needed.
The next day, Josett headed down to New Orleans with one goal in mind– find out where we can support and what type of support is needed. “In a city known for its live music and social energy, you could hear a pin drop in the French Quarter and Bourbon Street,” says Josett.
The city had been evacuated and what could be seen for miles were down trees, collapsed light poles and debris in every direction left behind by Ida. “I started roaming the city looking for needs and quickly found a line that must have been several blocks long. As I started talking to people, I discovered they had been waiting hours for water, food and ice at a grocery store and around the corner, a line equally as long for gas. People were standing in the 90 degree heat for basic needs. The snacks and water I had in my car went quickly and it was just the tip of what was needed,” she says.
Within moments, Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles arrived to provide food to these individuals in line who likely hadn’t had a warm meal in days. The smell of fresh food wafted in the air and as one resident said, he hadn’t smelled anything so wonderful in days, “it smelled and felt like hope.”
Red Cross volunteers were working in the blaring heat of the sun to hand out meals and they didn’t stop until every meal was gone.
“It’s witnessing moments like this that remind me of our true mission, alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. The full bellies around the 9th Ward in New Orleans were due to the volunteers who sacrificed their Labor Day holiday plans of visiting with family and friends, to sweat in the New Orleans sun to ensure families didn’t go hungry,” says Josett.
While each disaster brings its own unique challenges, the Red Cross will always be there. Before, during and after a disaster, when those impacted see the Red Cross logo, they know it means hope and help.
To join our dedicated team of volunteers that provide that hope and help, visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.
By Siara Campbell, American Red Cross Public Affairs