Volunteers play key role in Red Cross operations
June 1 is the first day of hurricane season, usually an important date on the calender for anyone who lives in south Louisiana.
The date is also important for employees of the American Red Cross.
Although Red Cross employees are crucial in emergency response before and after hurricanes, they are not the only keys to a successful disaster response.
Because the American Red Cross is a volunteer-based nonprofit, the organization is impotent without volunteers.
Right now, the American Red Cross is seeking thousands of new volunteers to train so the group will be ready to respond to a hurricane.
Why so many? American Red Cross spokeswoman Nancy Malone said the organization has to be prepared to help an estimated 90,000 Louisiana residents who might be seeking safe shelter during a full coast evacuation.
The volunteers work at American Red Cross shelters to provide food, a safe space to rest and emotional support.
During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the American Red Cross-run shelter at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales served as a sanctuary for many New Orleans and coastal Louisiana residents forced from their homes.
On Aug. 31, 2005, between 1,500 and 2,000 evacuees were at the Lamar-Dixon shelter.
During one of the first few days after Katrina hit on Aug. 29, Louisiana Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross volunteer Michael Beck worked as the Lamar-Dixon’s shelter manager.
During a visit to the shelter Aug. 31, 2005, Beck looked sweaty, tired and was constantly hearing someone call out his name or tug on his shirt.
Beck said then he hardly had any time to rest.
“I will be relieved at some point. I’ve been here less than a day, and I will be gone in less than a day,” Beck said that day.
Without volunteers like Beck, shelters can become chaotic.
But Red Cross officials said volunteers provide support at many levels.
“Evacuees are facing uncertainty and may be worried about loved ones,” Jane Morgan, the state disaster officer for the Red Cross, said in a news release.
“People giving their time to share a hug, offer a meal, give reassuring words and being there is just an immeasurable value,” Morgan said.
“The great thing about it is anybody can take training and go help,” Clay Smilie, who volunteered with his wife during Hurricane Gustav in Baton Rouge, said in the release.
“You don’t have to be special. Anyone can do it who wants to. Whether retired or working, you can still help. The only qualification you have to have is the willingness to help others during a time of need.”
The American Red Cross is offering two more days of training for hurricane season volunteers.
The courses begin at 9 a.m. on June 9 and July 14 at 4655 Sherwood Common Blvd.
The skills of nurses, paramedics and doctors and mental health professionals can also be used by the American Red Cross in shelter operations. Those with special skills can volunteer and receive specialized Red Cross training.
All volunteers can register at http://www.tinyurl.com/LARedCross.
Steven Ward, a general-assignment reporter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.