Thursday night I attended a Red Cross orientation for folks interested in helping out in the Gulf Coast. I and 180 other potential volunteers sat through a two-hour talk and PowerPoint presentation that laid out the history of the organization, their role in disaster response, and a taste of what may be store for us down south. If deployed, we would be part of the Disaster Services Human Resource (DSHR) team, and would serve for two-to-three weeks.
It was inspiring to see the diversity of folks who showed up: black & white, Hispanic & Asian, college kids and seniors, tattooed hipsters and middle-class professionals. At first, I assumed many of the attendees were there for a general introduction to Red Cross services, or planned on assisting with local efforts, but the vast majority of the people, like myself, were actually hoping to be deployed. This despite what they assured us were “hardship” conditions. For instance, they told us of one shelter that had no flushable toilets or Port-a-Potties for five days. And of a Red Cross emergency response vehicle feeding folks on a country road which had its front tire torn off and eaten by an alligator!
After the presentation, we filed out into the lobby and signed up for personal interviews and disaster response training. To be deployed, you have to take classes in “Mass Care” and “Sheltering,” as well as pass a background check. And you have to think about which function you’d like to perform: Client Services, Community Services, or Logistics. I was leaning toward Client Services or Community Services, but I figured I would nail down which one at my interview, which was set for last night at 6:30 p.m.
I was a bit worried about my interview, though: was I trying to impress them, or the other way around? After all, I was told to bring a resumé… Well, turned out it to be fine. Christie, the coordinator of volunteer services immediately put me at ease. It was clear the Red Cross was thrilled to have so many willing bodies available, and she was glad to help me figure what I was best suited for. We settled on Community Services — sheltering, feeding, bulk distribution, etc. — which calls for flexibility and troubleshooting skills. Client Services would be caseworker duties, sitting down with evacuees assisting them with paperwork. Important work, but I spend all day in my normal life at a computer or a desk; I need to work with my hands, to make an immediate, tangible difference.
So next Wednesday I take the double class in Mass Care and Sheltering, followed shortly by a special class in the specifics of Katrina. At that point, if I’m still needed — and I have every reason to think I will be — I’ll be on call for deployment. Typically, that happens within 24 hours. I’ll have no control over where I’ll be sent: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas? But I’ll be taken care of during my deployment with travel paid for, a cot to sleep on, as many bologna sandwiches as I can eat, and even a small per diem. As they joked at the Red Cross: an all-expense paid trip to a disaster zone!
I can’t believe I’m doing this, and yet it seems like the most obvious thing in the world.