By Annabelle Moore, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross
Anne Sasko thinks of herself as a people-person who likes to help others. Perfect qualities for a mass care volunteer who helps the American Red Cross respond to natural disasters around the country. “People don’t know [the American Red Cross] shows up at house fires even at 2am. We get to give hope within minutes,” says Anne. “This is what we do. We help make sure people can just breath, eat, sleep, and get rest.”
Over the last three years, Anne has responded to everything from a single-family home fire and snowstorms in the North Texas Region to major national disasters that affected thousands like Hurricane Harvey and the Paradise, California, wildfires.
A day in the life of a disaster relief volunteer is always unique. “I’ve learned that mother nature does not discriminate—it can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere,” says Anne. “I think we all need to understand that.” She says one disaster relief response she took part in only lasted 6 hours, while others may last weeks to years.
“One day [the community might] need help in sheltering, the next day they may need disaster damage assessments in the field. You kind of wake up and meet each day-by-day,” says Anne. “I’ve seen the mission change within hours. It really tests your patience more than flexibility and it can frustrate. But that’s the nature of the beast—understanding that it’s in the hands of mother nature and she’s in charge.”
It’s being able to help shelter residents and disaster survivors through their recovery process that gives Anne hope. During the Paradise, California, wildfires, Anne met firefighters and first responders from around the world. “I couldn’t believe it; I was floored and in awe. I’ve never seen a response from the entire world. It reinforced my hope for humanity.”
In early November 2018, the Camp Fire destroyed nearly 150,000 acres. “It was a brutal experience,” says Anne. As a volunteer, “you just see the need and you become a leader. You say [to the shelter residents] ‘hey, let’s get our wits about us and be strong, let’s think about the future,’” says Anne. “Their eyes light up. It [helps them to move forward from] what they’ve been through. I tell every single person we offer health care, a mental health team, and spiritual guidance services.”
The fire happened during the time when most Americans are getting ready for the holiday season and Anne remembers one community member arriving on the scene with 2,000 free turkey dinners. “That was the most moving disaster relief response that I’ve ever worked on,” says Anne. “It really rocked my world. I wish every Red Crosser could have experienced what I saw.”
Helping people recover from disasters, “is the most rewarding opportunity I’ve ever had. I wish I had done this 20-30 years ago,” says Anne. “That’s what life is about—it’s helping your community in a time of need.”
The American Red Cross is always looking for volunteers to help on local Disaster Action Teams here in the North Texas Region and large-scale disaster relief operations. Learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.