More than 2,000 Red Cross disaster workers from all over the country have helped shelter, feed and support people since the tornadoes first devastated communities all over the south. For American Red Cross Central & Southern Ohio Region CEO Stephanie Byrd, a trip to Mississippi in the aftermath showed the importance of volunteers and staff at every level of the Red Cross.
“My deployment happened a week after the tornado had hit the state,” Byrd said of her departure. “I was primarily in Rolling Fork and Silver City serving as an Elected Official Liaison (EOL) working to connect with elected leaders to make sure that the needs of their constituents were being met. EOL’s ensure that any unmet needs are identified and addressed, either within the scope of the Red Cross, or bringing local partners to the table to do so.”
The communities of Rolling Fork and Silver City suffered such catastrophic damage from the tornado where even connecting with the elected leaders in those communities proved difficult. “It was a challenge because either they were directly affected or reaching them was a challenge because their phone service had been disrupted by the storm. Power and phone service had not been restored in many places,” Byrd said. “In talking with the elected officials who were affected, you couldn't help but be sympathetic to their issues,” Byrd continued. “They were worried about their constituents and were happy to know what the Red Cross was doing and were very familiar with how we were providing support in their community because in some instances we were providing support to them and their families.”
To bring some comfort to those impacted a Palm Sunday dinner was organized, and Byrd found herself among the Red Crossers making it happen. “We served dinner on Palm Sunday and decided rather than having people go up to the window of the Emergency Response Vehicle to get their food that we would have them sit down at tables and serve them or prepare their boxes if they were taking the food with them to go,” Byrd said of the dinner plan. “This simple gesture was to make them cared for when, in many instances, the weight of the world was on their shoulders. While we were serving the meal, we also had caseworkers there and a healthcare worker just to make sure that people were getting those needs met as well.”
“It was so impactful and heartwarming to see how the Red Cross was really extending themselves to meet the needs of the affected communities,” Byrd said. “We can never say enough about how amazing our volunteers are. We had volunteers from all over the place. I came in from the airport with someone from Seattle, there was someone from Alaska there. I was told that there was someone from Guam. People from all over came to help and what they did in their day job did not come up. It was all about what are we doing? How can we do more?”
“There was an E3 philosophy, which is every shelter, every need, every day,” Byrd concluded. “With that goal and the focus on equity, people were all about the mission, serving the most vulnerable first. It was a roll up your sleeves attitude. We want to do the work. Let's get after it.”
Volunteers are needed for both times of normalcy, and especially when disaster strikes. If you want more information on what goes into volunteering or to sign up visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit www.Redcross.org/centralandsouthernoh and join us on Twitter and Facebook.