For American Red Cross volunteer disaster responders like Vickie Gregory, human suffering is most often witnessed as the result of a fire or flood.
But for Vickie, a gas leak response was what first came to mind when she thinks of all the hours she spends in support of the Red Cross Mission.
“My husband and I responded last year to a situation where a man well into his 80s had to leave his home due to the gas leak, and while he was already dealing with some early challenges with dementia, the gas further exacerbated that problem,” said Vickie, a volunteer with the Red Cross for 16 years. “So here was a veteran, confused and mostly alone, and just the sweetest person, who had to leave his home and didn’t understand why. We were able to provide lodging for him as well as financial assistance while they repaired his heater, and he was so grateful for the help we provided and just the comfort of having that reassurance. For some reason, his face just stays fixed in my mind as to why we do what we do.”
For Rick Way, it’s many faces that come to mind when he recounts his own reasons for volunteering as a disaster responder with the Red Cross of Western Maryland.
“So many times we’ve responded to a fire or a disaster call, and you never know what you’re going to see on the faces of the victims, or how they’re going to respond,” said Way, who like Gregory serves as a volunteer Disaster Action Team member among his many roles with the Red Cross. “Some people are wandering around, they’re heartbroken, they’ve lost everything, saying ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, what do I do?’ Others are in tears, some are in complete silence, and some even joke constantly just to deal with the shock of not knowing what to do in that situation.”
Way believes that’s where the Red Cross makes the biggest difference. “One of the most important things we bring is the experience of, ‘We’ve been through this before, we know how to help you through this and take the next steps.’ In those situations, all of a sudden their face changes, and they have something to do. We help give them their purpose back in the moment, and that’s why we do what we do,” said Way.
Gregory agreed. “Just being able to help someone who had no idea what their next decision would be, or which way to turn, it’s a difference maker,” she said. “So often we hear about the major disasters the Red Cross responds to nationally and even globally, but it’s really in those tiny little moments that make us what we’re about.”
At the American Red Cross, volunteers like Vickie and Rick comprise 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce, and in times of disaster, 100 percent of the funds needed to respond to emergencies are due to the generosity of donors. During this year’s United Way of Frederick County Unity Campaign, every dollar donated to the American Red Cross can stretch a little further, and help a little more, right here in our own community, and the Red Cross is grateful for the support of its many donors and volunteers.