By Tori Kanhayuwa, Response and Recovery | California Safe Corps American Red Cross Greater Long Beach Chapter
During the first week of December, I was part of a Disaster Action Team that responded to a multi-family fire in Long Beach. Our team did what they do best and took care of the clients by providing hotel, food and clothes.
However, it’s important to note that the American Red Cross does so much more than give our clients money and clothes and send them on their way. We work with them to assure them that they’re not alone during what’s probably the hardest time of their lives.
Red Cross caseworkers pick up where our DAT teams leave off, and more often than not, we encounter clients who are left with absolutely nothing — no money, no place to go, not even a support system to lean on.
But the beautiful part (if there’s such thing as a beautiful side to disasters) is watching as my supervisors, colleagues, and volunteers tackle the problems head on without batting even an eyelash. It’s our job to work closely with these families and make sure they have everything they need to make a full recovery.
By the time I got involved with the casework after that particular fire, caseworkers in L.A. had already extended their hotel stays and sent them referrals to shelters, clothing and food banks, among other services.
Since this fire happened within the jurisdiction of the Long Beach Chapter, and I happen to be one of the only Spanish-speaking caseworkers, I was then charged with taking care of nine lives – two families. To say the least, the pressure was on. But I knew I had the support, resources, and training to handle the situation.
Almost immediately the next day, one of the family members called me, distressed about where he and his family would spend the night. As soon as these cases became my responsibility I called an emergency casework meeting at the Rio Hondo Chapter, where Red Cross volunteers showed up ready and willing to do whatever they could to alleviate the suffering these people were experiencing. I was inspired and motivated to see such commitment.
The recovery process for these two families is still ongoing. We speak to our clients almost every day in order to better understand their situation, plans, and how to support them.
We are always united in our purpose to help the client. In responding to this fire, we incorporated the use of our shelter agreements, expertise of disaster program managers and specialists, as well as the compassion of various caseworkers and dedication of volunteers.
We work at full capacity to assist our clients in any way we can because no disaster is too small here at the Red Cross.