This will simply be a synapses of my time with the American Red Cross, latter some reflections will follow. To see nearly 50 pictures, click here.
In the beginning there is a lot of waiting in line, and whole days are given up while the powers that be figure out what to do with the mass of humanity that has shown up on their doorstep. They were no more prepared to deal with this disaster than anyone else was, but unlike some organizations, they have responded admirably, it seems, at least that is my view from the bottom of the volunteer barrel.
Because they do not provide direct emergency assistance, the heat isn’t so hot on them. Their main deficiency is their inability to deal nimbly with the overwhelming number of volunteers, but to suggest that I or anyone could have done better given the circumstances would be naïve.
If you are thinking of volunteering, here is a snapshot of my experience. It’s not the whole story, but it’s my story.
I made my first contact to volunteer on a Friday, and was told to come back the following Tuesday for training. At that time, we were told we could expect to go out within 24 hours, but in reality we didn’t fly till Saturday. We arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, late on Saturday night, which was too late to be processed at the headquarters (HQ), so we went to a hotel. The next day we were in-processed in a haphazard manner, in which we were never quite sure what or where we were supposed to be. Once we were done with the paperwork, we settled in to wait in the outgoing volunteer area, where people chatted, read, or watched TV. After a while, it became obvious that we were going no where fast, and so we tried to find something to do there at the HQ. Actually, it was mainly Joey that was trying to be helpful, I was busy with the more important challenge of keeping up with what was going on that Sunday in the NFL, but I, too, got to work when she found something for us to do, namely handing out office supplies to whomever was in need. Because Joey is a pro at anything she puts her mind to, we were asked to stay there at the HQ. (I was totally riding her coattails.) We were both given jobs in Logistics, I in the motor pool, and her at the shipping and receiving desk.
Things quickly settled into a routine. We would come in at 8am, and by nine the FedEx shipment had arrived with 30-90 packages that needed to be accounted for, and distributed throughout the HQ.
A word on HQ. HQ was an old K-mart building, each function (i.e. manpower, records, logistics, bulk distribution, external affairs, etc…) had their own section filled with laptops, cords, and paper work. The various functions made up about 250 people. In addition, there was a constant stream of volunteers from around the country. They would fly into Montgomery and then 12-48 hours later, ship out some place to the south. The task of driving these people to their assignment was the job of the motor pool, to which I was assigned.
I found the job enjoyable, driving all over southern Alabama and Mississippi, delivering people and packages to various shelters, and distribution points. The days could be long, but I enjoyed the solitude, especially compared to the noise and commotion of HQ. On the long drives, I got to know a number of people fairly well, including two new friends, John and Scott. I truly enjoyed my time with the Red Cross, mostly because of the people I met, and would do so again in a heartbeat; however, be prepared for a certain amount of bureaucracy that inevitably accompanies any national organization.
See more pictures here.