Every year at Thanksgiving American Red Cross volunteer Linda Shelley reflects on what she’s thankful for.
“So normally I would say, ‘I’m really grateful for my family, for my friends and for the great animals I have here,’” she began.
But this year, the New Hampshire volunteer says recent experience has taught her to cherish her ‘blessings’ even more.
“I have a roof over my head. I have a home. I have food. We have everything we need. I’m really grateful because I have seen people who have lost so much,” she said.
Linda recently returned from her second Red Cross deployment to Florida where she and other volunteers from around the country have been providing care, comfort, support and recovery assistance to those impacted by Hurricane Ian, the catastrophic storm that devastated much of Florida back in September.
“There is a huge need in Florida. It’s tremendous still. There are so many thousands of people who are displaced, who have lost everything. Not just damage to their homes, but their homes are just gone,” she said, “That’s what’s calling me to go back. Florida really needs the Red Cross help.”
Help that Linda is eager to provide. Right after the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie have been consumed, Linda will return to Florida for a third time, spending a total of six weeks in the disaster zone. She specializes in disaster assessment. Soon after Ian made landfall, Linda was part of the preliminary disaster assessment team tasked with surveying initial damage to particular areas. During her second deployment she was assigned to detailed damage assessment, where she went home-to-home to evaluate individuals’ needs.
“It was really hard not to cry,” Linda said remembering one family who shared how Ian had washed their home away, stealing decades of irreplaceable memories.
“The great grandmother built the house. It had withstood every hurricane – and now all that was left were the pillars. The wife was just hoping she could find the picture of her and her grandmother. The husband searched and searched, but things are so destroyed, it could be a mile away,” she said.
After Thanksgiving, Linda will join the Red Cross “Hotshots” as a supervisor. This specialized team is responsible for circling back to areas which may have been previously inaccessible or sustained more damage than previously thought.
“When you’re the face of the Red Cross in these communities, you are a symbol of hope for people – a source of compassion, kindness and hopefully answers. That’s why I go back. My heart is in it.”
For Linda, these deployments have been an emotional rollercoaster. From hours of hard work, hugs and high-fives to so much heartache. She says it’s the resiliency and appreciation from those she’s helping that keep her going.
“I was doing disaster assessment on Sanibel Island. They had opened up the grocery store. I went into a pickup a snack and this gentleman came up to me and said, ‘I wanted to tell you how much it meant to me the other day when I was cleaning up my house and a Red Cross person came and offered me a bottle of cold water. I just wanted to thank you, even though you weren't the person.’ It's the little acts of kindness that go a long way,” Linda said.
Linda first became a Red Crosser back in 2019. A leg injury derailed her active lifestyle. Looking for a way to stay busy, she found the Red Cross and started taking every disaster class and training she could from the couch. Once her leg healed, she hit the ground running responding to home fires and flooding in her community with her local Disaster Action Team. Looking for her next challenge, Linda tried a national deployment. She was dazzled by the impact she could have and the fulfillment she felt. Now she’s deployed eight times in three years. She started 2022 in California responding to the wildfires in Fresno. This summer Linda headed to St. Louis, Missouri following deadly flooding and her fall has been consumed by Hurricane Ian recovery efforts – five deployments before Christmas!
“The reason I can do this is that I have 100% support from my husband and family. He knows how valuable it is for me to deploy. He knows how happy it makes me to help other people,” Linda said. “It’s just an incredible opportunity. There’s a lot of organizations you can volunteer for, but honestly, I couldn’t think of a better organization than the Red Cross.”
If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, visit: redcross.org/VolunteerNNE.