Red Cross Emergency Shelter Assignment

American Red CrossIn 2010, our church asked its members to get trained with the Red Cross.  There were about 10 of us that went and received the training.  After that, I was a put on a list and now and then I get emails whenever there’s a shelter that is set up in the puget sound area. 

A few weeks ago, I received an email where Red Cross volunteers could get free Seattle Storm tickets.  Sure!  Why not!  I’ve never been to a Storm game and my kids are starting to get into basketball.  I signed up for 4 tickets.  A week later, I get an email that they need volunteers for an emergency shelter because of an apartment fire in Federal Way

South King Fire and Rescue firefighters battled an early blaze Friday at a Federal Way apartment complex, where 91 people were displaced.  - Courtesy South King Fire and Rescue

If I’m willing to take basketball tickets, I’d better be willing to take a shelter shift… So tonight, I’m at the New Hope church (next to St. Luke’s) in Federal Way.  There was an apartment fire at the Crestview Apartments a few weeks ago where 91 people were displaced.  I’ve done one other shift in Kent about a year ago after another apartment fire.

These shelter shifts are 8 hours long, and probably not like what one might imagine when they think of a red cross shelter.  I’m not bandaging legs and carrying babies from one place to another.  I am sitting at the registration desk for about 80% of the time checking people in and out.  Occasionally, I’ll give directions or dig out a special snack for one of the kids from the snack closet.    The remainder of the time, I’m helping serve food, cleaning up the dishes, mopping the floor, and taking out the trash. 

However, I’m always impressed with the people and other volunteers that I meet.   They always make the experience worthwhile.  Today, Maggie greeted me.   She is the Shelter Lead for the entire region.  She comes every day from Bainbridge Island down to Federal Way to take care of these displaced people and help coordinate the volunteers.  When things were a bit quiet, I tried to figure out why she does it.  She’s a volunteer, so it’s certainly not for the money.  She basically needs to be on a moment’s notice to heed the call whenever there is a local emergency that happens.   She told me stories of how she was also deployed to Sandy and a couple other national disasters.   Apparently, when you are deployed for a national disaster, it is a 3 week commitment and you sleep in the cots at the shelters.  It’s a tough 3 weeks.

She told me that she’s a house wife and her daughter went off to college, and she needed something to do.  She found the red cross.  She found a great mentor.  She eventually became a shelter manager.  Now, she oversees all the Shelters in the Western Washington region and has 5 shelter managers under her.  She’s probably got a few more years in her before she retires, so she needs to find someone else to take her place.  They are always looking for good volunteers and shelter managers with availability.    If helping people and meeting interesting people are up your alley, I recommend looking up the American Red Cross and signing up for some volunteer training.  You’ll be put on a list and get called up when you’re needed.  You might think that there are a ton of Red Cross volunteers, but there are not.  The other guy that is here with me is from North Seattle.

At the Kent Red Cross shelter a year ago, I met a man named Wayne from Forks, WA.  He drove all the way out to Kent and was taking a 16 hour shift.  He’s an EMT and told me all kinds of harrowing stories on his national deployments.  Seems like he’s a local legend among Puget Sound area Red Crossers.

These are a different breed of volunteers.  Ones that are driven to drive or fly for hours to help those in desperate need.  Not like me, that signed up out of guilt over basketball tickets…

I also met the Associate Pastor, Rick, at New Hope church.  He is a big man who looks like he just stomped out of an episode of American Chopper.  He talked about the outreach ministry at his church.  On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, they run a shelter and feed the homeless.  Many are addicts, alcoholics, or have other conditions where they can not find shelter in other organizations.  New Hope gives them a place to stay and a warm meal.  Lately, they have been working with families.    Apparently, there are a number of families with young children that sometimes live out of their car or in transient situations.  He said that he suspects that some may be undocumented immigrants and are afraid that the shelter is some kind of a trap.   Eventually, he gets to know the families and are able to give them help by turning them over to organizations that can help them get out of their transient situation.    He pointed to the facilities manager, who was introduced to the church on one of these outreach nights.  Now he is gainfully employed at the church and apparently doing a wonderful job.  He mentioned that several local churches and mosques including St. Luke’s (neighboring church) are helping out through donations, service hours, and funding.

He also talked about how he got a call a few nights after the Federal Way Apartment fire.  I always thought that the Red Cross had pre-arranged locations for emergency shelters.  Apparently not.  The emergency shelter was originally set up at the FW Community Center, but it just wasn’t working with the basketball games right next to the shelter area.  That’s when New Hope got the call.    Pastor Rick was eager to accommodate.  After a week and a half, he asked his congregation today if they can continue to support the shelter and they all agreed to support the Red Cross as long as it was required. 

Sometimes, we hear so much about the bad stuff going on, that it’s easy to forget about all the good people of the world.  For some reason, they never quite make the news.  Their deeds are usually done quietly.  Their help received humbly by the meek and voiceless.  That’s what I love about showing up at the Red Cross or most other service assignments.  I usually show up thinking that I’m going to help somebody out or do some good, but usually end up leaving inspired by the example of others or the perseverance of those facing adversity. 

Reminds me of a quote from Gordon B. Hinckley, late President of the LDS church:

The best antidote I know for worry is work.  The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired.  One of the great ironies of life is this:  He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.





I think he was talking about more than just basketball tickets…

The great people I met tonight – I’m sure they are amply receiving the blessings of serving those around them.    May God bless them for their hard work.  May more rise up to fill out the ranks in doing good.

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