Chris Meinzen from the Southeast Louisiana Red Cross chapter is deployed to help the flood operation in Georgia.
Collins and I reached the neighborhood, and people were waiting in the street for the next feeding ERV. We talked to people, we told them when help was coming, we told them what we could do. We spoke in Spanish and we used our knowledge to put them at ease. Later, driving through another neighborhood, I handed a Cleanup Kit to a man standing in his garage surrounded by his belongings. We talked for ten minutes.
The Atlanta chapter is large and official looking. It belongs in movies or PR flashes. There is a swarm of Emergency Response Vehicles, called ERVs, and rental cars and box trucks waiting eagerly to be loaded up and delivered.
We walk in the entrance. The mishmash of the parking lot is quickly overshadowed by the zigzag of volunteer lines, the bustle of National Red Cross directors trying to place them, the Atlanta staff trying to house them, and HQ managers trying to continue the operation. Usually, when enough people assemble and lose purpose, they grumble and slowly begin to resent losing their time to waiting. But these volunteers spent these moments hugging old friends and joking around with “the fine woman I worked 21 days with in Texas” or their old boss, “a yard dog and I barked right in his face.”
It’s funny and it’s strange, this culture of nation-wide volunteers who assemble. Some mixture of numbers, cultures, and abilities forms this into a Disaster Response.
A lady in the basement informed us what we would be doing. Bulk Distribution, our division, would transport the supplies from distant warehouses to drop sites and shelters close to the disaster. My fellow Louisiana Red Crosser, Collins, and I jumped on a box truck our first day and shuttled small supplies from headquarters to Fort Gillem. We didn’t see anything affected by the waters. It rained, but we barely got wet.
We didn’t really have work the rest of the day. I read a good book. The Response, I’m finding, doesn’t center around me feeling good or productive, but around something else.
There’s a bit of an image one has when arriving, that every moment will be spent pulling people from the waters, giving them dry clothes and feeding them. I knew it was an illusion, a little bit. I’m understanding, now, that there is much more to mobilizing a response than just having good people on the scene.
There are good people here. And some are right there, giving out a hot meal to someone who can’t return to their home. Some volunteers are opening shelters, today, a couple miles from my new warehouse site. But I’m proud to do my part to contribute, whatever it may be.
Today, we were scouting an area that we heard had been inundated. Collins and I reached the neighborhood, and people were waiting in the street for the next feeding ERV. We talked to people, we told them when help was coming, we told them what we could do. We spoke in Spanish and we used our knowledge to put them at ease. Later, driving through another neighborhood, I handed a Cleanup Kit to a man standing in his garage surrounded by his belongings. We talked for ten minutes. He told me about his recent operations. He told me how his friends were helping to bring him home. He told me he couldn’t leave this house, because he needed the machine to open his lungs.
“I’d shake your hand,” he told me, “But I don’t know if my radiation treatment is dangerous. They said I shouldn’t ride home in the same car with my granddaughter.” He was shaking.
I reached out my hand. “I’ll take a chance.”