When Elisa Kissinger walked into the Spokane office of the American Red Cross in February of 2022, it was her first time volunteering for the Red Cross, but far from her first time volunteering for a worthy cause. She previously spent many years volunteering for Second Harvest — the nation’s biggest food bank.
At Second Harvest she made herself useful wherever she was needed. Elisa started out sorting food in the warehouse, helped with nutritional classes in the evening and then assisted with distributing food with the Mobile Market during the pandemic.
Her work with the Red Cross has been equally wide-ranging. In barely a year’s time, she has deployed out-of-region twice, to Red Cross responses in Fort Myers FL and El Paso TX. Back home in Spokane — headquarters for the Red Cross Greater Inland Northwest Chapter — she has been a part of virtually every service the organization offers.
She started as a Red Cross blood ambassador — one of the volunteers who walks blood donors through the donation process. Next, she helped with the Red Cross Service to Armed Forces (SAF) function — assisting military veterans at events called “stand downs.” Such events provide veterans with everything from medical care to haircuts to take-home bags of personal care supplies. “Those were the most wonderful events for vets,” she says.
Elisa has also worked on the Red Cross Sound the Alarm (STA) campaign. The Red Cross launched its Home Fire initiative in 2014 — a push to cut home fire deaths by installing smoke alarms in homes that lack them. STA is the action side of Home Fire — an aggressive drive lasting just a few weeks each year to install alarms in 100,000 or more homes. Elisa and her fellow volunteers tracked down homes in need of alarms, installed the alarms and taught home fire preparedness. She says she found working with other committed volunteers on STA “a hoot.”
When Hurricane Ian hit the Gulf Coast of Florida last September, Elisa was ready to go. She had never deployed to a disaster scene before, and lacked the training that Red Cross responders need. To sharpen her response skills, she took Red Cross classes in Mass Care — learning how disaster victims are cared for in Red Cross shelters. “Then the newly-created position of Disaster Ambassador opened up and I was picked to go to Florida as one of those,” she says. The circumstances are different, of course, but the function of blood ambassadors and disaster ambassadors are pretty analogous.
Red Cross responders to a large disaster often find victims disoriented, shocked, deeply traumatized — families scattered, and their possessions mostly gone. Ambassadors check in the clients, collect vital information, explain what services the Red Cross can provide. Then, the clients are logged into the Red Cross online system and directed to the caseworkers who will manage their care. “I greeted people coming to the Red Cross for service,” she says.” I put them into the computer and directed them to the intake workers.”
Fort Myers is where Hurricane Ian came ashore. Even though Elisa arrived there well after the storm passed, she knew she would be working among scenes of great destruction. She admits being worried about how dangerous her working conditions would be. What she found was a very caring and supportive Red Cross leadership. “The Red Cross is very good to volunteers.” she says. “They make sure the volunteers are safe and healthy.”
Hardly had Elisa arrived back home in Spokane when she was asked to deploy to a Red Cross relief operation in Texas. Working out of the convention center in El Paso, she helped feed Red Cross clients.
Now that she has two disaster relief operations under her belt, Elisa is able to form judgments about her fellow volunteers. The word she uses to describe those volunteers is “incredible.” She explains, “Red Cross volunteers are a unique set of people. They travel great distances to disaster scenes to help people they don't know and will never see again.”
Asked if she would respond to more disasters in the future, her response is “In a heartbeat.” In fact she is training now to serve the Red Cross in new ways — learning how to drive Red Cross emergency response vehicles, for instance.
So what brought Elisa Kissinger to the Red Cross in the first place? When she retired from working last year, she decided she wanted to expand her volunteering in an organization that offered opportunities for personal growth and development. Her choice was the Red Cross.
Finally, we asked Elisa about the qualities anyone else thinking of volunteering should possess. “You need to have three things to become a good, useful Red Cross volunteer,” she says. “You need to have a love for people. You need to be flexible, and you need a sense of humor.”