by Amy Yen, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross North Texas Region
Retired Fort Worth couple Becky & James Carmichael have been at this a long time. This weekend, approaching their 10th year volunteering with the American Red Cross, they embarked on their latest adventure: a six hour drive to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to assist in emergency relief efforts to Hurricane Laura.
“We’ve probably been sitting at the house, trying to stay away from Covid for so many months, I think we were ready to go out & do something,” said Becky.
It will be their 20th deployment for the Red Cross. From tornadoes in Garland to wildfires in California, they’ve answered the call—in addition to their normal gigs as part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) in Tarrant County, who responds to home fires and other local disasters.
“To be honest, sometimes we get so tired, we say we’re never deploying again. We’re older and retired, you know,” Becky admitted. “But then they call and they tell us they need help. So we go.”
The Carmichaels are two of more than 1,200 trained Red Cross disaster responders supporting relief efforts in Texas & Louisiana. They drove from DFW in an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV), one of dozens deployed to canvass the affected areas to assess damage and provide food, water and supplies.
They spent Monday in a small community outside of DeRidder, LA, serving about 300 meals to residents just beginning to recover.
“It’s a small community, so the word got out we were there. We were by a high school and the principal organized a phone tree to let everyone know we were serving food,” said Becky, noting the tremendous need in the area. “There are a lot of big families here who need help. One guy said he needed 17 meals, because he had his kids and his grandkids with him.”
Another problem: temperatures in the 90s with a heat index of 105, 50% humidity…and no air conditioning.
“One lady told us they didn’t have electricity and they might not be getting it back for two months because the power grid was destroyed,” said Becky. “We were like, whoa, Louisiana in the summer with no power. Can you imagine?”
Despite all this, residents remain resilient and generous.
“Everyone has been very appreciative and so nice. There was one lady, bless her heart, she gave us $20. I kept telling her, I can’t take this. She literally ran to her car! But I told her, wait, I really can’t take this.” Becky had to explain that volunteers can’t take donations in the field. “She really wanted to make a donation. So we asked her to make one online.”
While the Red Cross has launched a massive relief effort for Hurricane Laura—one that has already served more than 67,000 meals and snacks, distributed some 20,000 relief items and cleaning supplies and helped 20,000 people find emergency housing, including at hotels—Becky stressed the need to support disaster relief efforts year-round, even outside of the big disasters that get the most media attention.
“People don’t realize that just in Tarrant County, where we usually serve, there are 364 fires a year. There are people who are displaced who need help,” Becky said.
In many ways, the Carmichaels’ 20th deployment is their most unique one yet. Disaster responses have been complicated by Covid-19 this year, but the Red Cross remains committed to providing the same level of support it always has, while ensuring the safety of our staff and volunteers, as well as the people we are serving.
“We were a little worried,” Becky admitted. “But we’ve mostly just been in the ERV, so we’re kind of isolated that way. We keep our masks on & we’re using hand sanitizer. There’s social distancing at the staff shelter in Baton Rouge.”
The Red Cross relief effort in Texas and Louisiana is just beginning, & Becky and James expect to be on the ground for at least two weeks.
“Usually by the end of it, we’re pretty worn out & ready to go home,” said Becky.
At least, until the next time they answer the call.
To help support Hurricane Laura relief efforts, visit RedCross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text LAURA to 90999 to make a $10 donation. To join Becky & James in making an impact as Red Cross volunteer, check out our most urgently needed volunteer positions at RedCross.org/volunteertoday. Virtual volunteering opportunities are available!