By Annabelle Moore, volunteer contributer, Red Cross North Texas Region
It was a personal tragedy in her own life that inspired Anne Sasko to join the American Red Cross and don the disaster volunteer vest. “I wanted to help others get through their tragedies too,” she says, reflecting on three years of service as a disaster relief volunteer.
Anne credits her twenty years in advertising and sales for giving her a people-oriented nature and the flexible skills to respond to the challenges of disaster relief operations. “You build relationships with people and learn to adapt quickly,” says Anne. “You just gotta go with the flow and find ways to help out.”
From responding to home fires, floods, and tornadoes across the country, Anne had plenty of experience to guide her through her most recent disaster assignment to a Hurricane Laura emergency lodging shelter.
Hurricane Laura displaced thousands of people from their homes along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. The American Red Cross deployed over 2,700 disaster workers to assist with over 458,500 overnight shelter and hotel stays provided with partner agencies.
Working on a disaster relief operation requires patience, says Anne, “you kinda put your team hat on and do whatever needs to be done that day. A disaster is ever-changing and thus the community’s needs are also ever-changing.”
Anne worked 12-hour evening shifts over four nights at one of the Hurricane Laura shelters operated by the state of Texas. She assisted clients, who traveled to the shelter from as far as New Orleans and Baton Rouge, with casework to address their needs.
It was a collaborative effort that brought multiple agencies together. Anne helped to connect clients with research and referrals to local organizations that will help them rebuild their lives shattered by back-to-back hurricanes.
Natural disasters are full of uncertainty and amid an unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, shelter volunteers worked hard to bring comfort to their residents. “[This response] was different because [coronavirus] added an element of fear that had never been a part of disaster before,” says Anne.
The American Red Cross is following recommendations by state and national health officials by having temperature checks at shelter entrances, spacing sleeping cots 6 feet apart, and wearing facemasks. “We’re taking every step necessary to help folks not catch the virus,” says Anne. “There’s a lot of unknowns for shelter residents and the American Red Cross tries to make a safe environment. I tell folks, ‘we’re here for you.’”
Anne’s favorite volunteer moment came when she mobilized to aid the Hurricane Harvey disaster relief operation. “I remember I helped a woman who had a newborn, she just asked me to hold her baby while she showered, and I said, ‘Absolutely, you bet!’ It was so moving to cradle this tiny baby.”
Always ready to respond to the next call to action, Anne advises anyone interested in becoming a disaster volunteer to “just do it! It’s the most fulfilling and rewarding opportunity that I’ve ever done.”
“Knowing that I’ve helped someone either physically, financially, or emotionally to get through their disaster has made me a better person by far,” says Anne “Pre-COVID, I used to say I give hugs and hope.”