“It’s one thing to see it on TV, but when you’re face-to-face, handing someone food after they’ve lost everything, and they begin to cry—well that really brings it home,” said American Red Cross volunteer Doug Isanhart of Conway, Arkansas.
Doug has been a Red Cross volunteer for several years, but the Hurricane Ian disaster relief operation was his first national deployment. The University of Central Arkansas professor has been active in his local chapter as a Disaster Action Team responder for several years and was looking forward to becoming a disaster Emergency Response Vehicle driver, but the pandemic delayed things. Finally able to take the driving test in February of 2022, he became certified and waited for the opportunity to respond to a large-scale disaster. When Hurricane Ian hit Florida as one of the worst hurricanes in American history, he received the call and served in Florida from October 11th through the 24th, 2022.
He described the typical day of an Emergency Response Vehicle driver as rising before the sun comes up and driving the ERV to the staging area where thousands of meals are prepared each day. The long line of ERVs—120 of them at the peak of the operation—snake along in a long line to be loaded with bulk hot food containers. From there the ERV teams make their way through devastated neighborhoods providing hot meals. One particular recipient remains etched in Doug’s memory.
“We were at the end of our run, and that day’s menu featured a meat dish, a vegetable, and salad. We had run out of everything but lima beans, and as we started back to headquarters, we encountered a woman in an old car that had been smashed by a tree during the storm, but she was still driving it. We stopped and told her we’d like to help, but all we had left was lima beans.”
The woman responded, “I haven’t eaten in three days. I’d eat cardboard right now, sir.” They loaded a tray, and as they drove away she was hungrily eating the lima beans and sharing them with her dog.
On another daily run they drove by a house with several people standing in the driveway. Doug stopped the ERV and asked if they could use a hot meal, and how many. The man disappeared into the house and returned to report that he needed seventy meals for his extended family who had gathered to support each other after the hurricane. Doug and his crew set to work preparing the seventy meals, nearly emptying the ERV, and completed a successful day of feeding those who had endured so much.
“The last day I was there, we were using my iPhone for GPS directions to an address at Fort Walton Beach. We followed Siri’s directions that took us to a devastated area where there was nothing but sand. I asked my partner, ‘Do you think this is the place?’. We decided that a neighborhood had been there before the hurricane but had been completely destroyed.” Doug’s ERV team opened the serving window, and within minutes a line of people who had lost everything were receiving a hot meal.
“I saw a sign on the wall at headquarters while I was there,” Doug remembers. “That sign said it all: We get up in the middle of the night to go someplace we’ve never been to serve people in need we’ve never met. That’s what the Red Cross is all about.”