By Zach Hess, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
Yesterday, I spent the day volunteering at the Rowlett Shelter. It’s hard to put into words all of the things I saw and felt, but I would like to share a couple of brief stories and reflections:
The first man I met when I arrived was named Mike. Mike lived in an RV in Sunnyvale, and he had already been through the tornado, found by paramedics, and seen in the emergency room for three fractured ribs prior to his stay in the Red Cross shelter. Mike told me how he hadn’t heard any sirens, assumed that the storm was passing, and that the most intense parts of it were going to miss him. Unfortunately, he was wrong. His RV and car were both destroyed; lifted off the ground and re-arranged in a different spot as a result of the swirling storm.
As you might expect, he was pretty bruised up, but his spirit was one of gratitude for his life and for the Red Cross. Part of being a Red Crosser is being there to comfort victims, give them the help we can and showing them the path to recovery. In the aftermath of such destruction, it’s often hard to construct a plan because most victims don’t know where to start. I was able to assist Mike in contacting his wife in Cleveland, so she would know that he is safe and well. I encouraged him to contact his insurance company and start the process of filing a claim for his car and RV, as well as hopefully being able to secure a rental car in the next few days.
In getting to know Mike, I discovered that he works at Southwest Airlines, one of the Red Cross’ major partners. Southwest is an amazing company, and with a call to my friend who works in their Corporate Communications/Disaster Response area, I was able to obtain the phone number for his leader, and connect them. Even though Mike will have a tough road ahead of him, he will be well supported as he sifts through the debris and begins to start his life over.
My next story is about a mother and her two adult daughters who showed up at the shelter around 10:30 a.m. The mother had been worried about her girls, and had gone over to check on their safety. This proved to be the best decision she could have made. Upon her return, she discovered her house had been completely demolished by the tornado. She, too, was very emotional due to the devastating loss of her home and possessions, but thankful that the Red Cross was there for her. She is looking forward to getting back to her property and trying to salvage what she can from what’s left of her home.
The biggest thing I took away from my visit to the shelter was the spirit of generosity and resiliency that the Rowlett community demonstrated. That elementary school shelter was flooded with people consistantly throughout the day who either dropped off hot food for folks in the shelter, workers, and first responders, or who wanted to bring relief supplies- clothes, blankets, bottled water, diapers, even dog food. In a world where sometimes watching the evening news can really crush my soul, yesterday gave me hope. As a volunteer, I was there to help others, but I feel like I was the lucky one—I was able to witness firsthand the beauty of the work that we do. If there is a chance to volunteer, I highly encourage each of you to take it. I know I’ll be going back to check on Mike and gather more stories like these.
To become a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.
To support to Disaster Relief, visit redcross.org/donate or text ‘REDCROSS’ to 90999 to donate.
For more information on our #TXtonadoes response, visit Red Cross Response to #TXtornadoes in December.