Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Commitment to Purpose and Passion The American Red Cross Volunteer Story During Disaster

Orlando, Florida
Sept. 4, 2019

It is 2 p.m. a week into an active disaster response for Hurricane Dorian on the East Coast. More than 1,900 trained volunteers from around the country, rallied to the call for help when the storm’s path appeared as though it would cover the state of Florida, and then move through Georgia and the Carolinas. Energy is still high in the headquarters for the response in Florida, but a sigh of relief envelopes the room. The storm has passed, leaving little damage in its wake. Still, handling more than 100 shelters and 7,000 evacuees in those shelters, work is nowhere near to being done.

These volunteers have seen the worst in disaster and continue to respond when called upon. In total, these people have seen 6,491 deployments between them. Fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes pepper the stories and memories of disasters past. It is a long day of work. Cool heads, calm voices and open hearts are evident in every single function of the disaster response.

Barbara Riester, a 50 year Red Cross volunteer,
works on her 100th deployment as a Logistics
Chief for the response to Hurricane Dorian. 
One volunteer works in a corner of the room, rarely leaving her post except for a few breaks before nightfall. Barbara Riester has served in one capacity or another for the Red Cross for more than 50 years. For this disaster, she is serving as the Logistics Chief at headquarters. Her love for service and the humanitarian organization began when she taught swimming lessons to children her Freshman year of college. Since those days, she has worked as a Red Cross employee and has deployed on more than 100 disaster calls as a volunteer.

Her call to serve has sent her to most states in the United States, the American Samoa Islands, around the world, and even a 20-month deployment to Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami that claimed more than 200,000 lives. She has seen it all. She lives the mission of the American Red Cross daily. This is her sixth volunteer deployment for the year.

“Like most Red Cross volunteers who are my age, I just didn’t want to retire,” she said from her post in the storm headquarters. “I enjoy working on disaster recovery. Red Cross workers are like family. They are my family. That really says it all for me. I don’t see my service as unique, I feel fortunate I can come and help.”

Riester is from Baltimore, Maryland. There are people serving this disaster from Washington, Virginia, Minnesota, Tennessee and Puerto Rico, just to name a few. All with the same story of passion for the mission of the Red Cross. All who will wait out the storm, providing shelter, food, and help to those who need it most.

If you would like to find out more about becoming a trained disaster volunteer, go to RedCross.org or visit your local American Red Cross chapter.

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