Helping People in Need, the American Red Cross Way

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As a Disaster Cycle Services Americorps member my duties entail volunteer recruitment and engagement, preparedness education presentations, disaster relief and response, and client casework.

The most challenging part, yet the most rewarding part of our job is responding to Disaster Action Team (DAT) calls in which we provide assistance to families who have been displaced from their homes due to a home fire, a car crashing into their home, and any other natural or man-made disaster. These calls are challenging because it is sometimes very difficult to find the words to comfort someone who has lost their home, their belongings, and in some instances maybe even a family member.

On January 26th, Allison (my AmeriCorps teammate) and I were dispatched for a DAT call in Boyle Heights. Prior to going on the call we were notified that this was a Spanish speaking family so I knew I would be the one asking the client questions, giving the client explanations as to what type of assistance we would offer, and possibly providing the client comfort as well. Little did I know that pretty soon I would be the one needing comfort.

At first, this call was like any other. Allison and I arrived on scene, spoke with the client, and then headed back to the car to determine what type of assistance we would provide to the client and her family. Then, my phone rang. It was my dad. He called to tell me my grandmother, who I had just visited and seen a couple of days prior, had passed away. I tried my best to hold back my tears, but I simply couldn’t. I had just lost one of the most important women in my life. As I stood sobbing by the curb I felt Allison’s arms wrap around me and give me a hug. At that moment Allison didn’t say a word to me, but I’m glad she didn’t because at that time all I needed was a friend’s hug.

Allison offered to finish the call. She said she would go back to speak to the client and let her know the amount of assistance we were providing, but when I realized that Allison was struggling to carry 8 blankets and 8 comfort kits I told her I would help her finish the call. I put on sunglasses to hide the redness in my eyes.

We walked back to the scene and I explained to the Spanish-speaking client the amount of assistance we were providing to her and her family. Upon receiving the news, the client began to tear, she said “I have donated blood over 20 times to the American Red Cross and I never thought they’d be the ones to help me during my time of need.” As she began to tear I also began to tear; I wanted to comfort her by giving her a hug, but I knew that if I hugged her we would both begin to sob for two completely different reasons. In that moment I thanked her, letting her know that she’s saved lives due to her blood donations. In turn she thanked the American Red Cross, Allison, and me for the help and support we were providing to her and her family.

On the drive back to the Whittier office, Allison stopped by Rite Aid and treated me to Thrifty ice cream. We both ordered ice cream cones with double scoops and took the ice cream to the car. Although most of the time we were driving in silence, it was a very comforting ride back home because not only was I having ice cream (my favorite!), but I realized that my partner was there to support me in my time of need, and that’s what a teammate is all about. There will be difficult calls throughout our term, but as long as we take care of each other, together as teammates, we can accomplish the American Red Cross mission of alleviating human suffering.

– Bernadett Leggis

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