Red Cross volunteer Tomi Hutton told a version of this story on our “Close to the Vest: Alone/Together” livestream event. Full video below.
Thank you truly for including me in this and after hearing all of the other stories, I definitely feel unqualified, but the Red Cross is an organization that I’m a huge fan of and to be able to contribute in any way is a huge honor.
This was my first deployment ever with the Red Cross, so I’ll just share a little bit of background about how that even came to be.
I work in production in Los Angeles. That’s not very surprising. There are a lot of us. We shut down your streets. We are responsible for keeping you from where you want to go. And we’re very sorry about that. We also provided you a lot of content during quarantine, so it’s that kind of ebb and flow.
But much like everybody else, when the pandemic hit, it impacted all of our jobs in different ways. For me, it was March the 13th… Friday the 13th when our industry shut down.
My job was 12 to 18 hours a day, five days a week, sometimes six, depending upon the schedule. So, I was used to the go–go–go pace on location. It kept me moving at all times. And then all of a sudden, it all came to a stop.
Suddenly, I had nothing but time on my hands. I was one of the fortunate ones in that I did not have to figure out Zoom schooling for kids. I don’t have children. And God bless all of you who had to figure that out during this time. That was huge.
When the grab–and–go meal distribution started and the Red Cross paired with the Los Angeles Unified School District, I was in my zone. I got to get back out there. It meant being out in the elements, early days. It meant moving quickly when you didn’t necessarily know what was coming next. I was right back in my element.
I remember my first day. I picked Lincoln High School almost at random. I didn’t know the area. I just looked on the map for the site closest to me.
The signup site gave you a description and you took your training class to get up to speed on what the day was going to be like. At that time, it was still an evolving process. This was still practically day one of the operation, both for the school district and for the Red Cross. It was a unique thing to watch unfold.
From the moment I got there, you could just see how great the need was. When school all of a sudden stopped, kids and families on the free lunch program and the free breakfast program, their food supply stopped too.
The parents that didn’t have in their budget, this Monday through Friday food. The $600 benefit that helped everybody in California had not kicked in yet. Those things were still being talked about. There’s a huge food insecurity here. I was completely unaware. So to see these lines start immediately, I don’t even know how the word got out.
As soon as they said, “Ok, we were moving the food from the cafeteria outside to make it safe,” they found a way to do it and the families lined up.
From then on, it was go–go–go, day after day. We boxed up breakfast and then they provided boxed lunch as well. The families would give us the number of meals they needed. And then we would put the meals in the trunk and somebody else would close the door.
It was later determined that putting food in people’s trunks wasn’t the safest anymore. So from then on, we put the food on a table and people would get out of their cars and grab the food themselves. We’d stand six feet back and everything.
It was all about taking the right precautions. And it was about the fact that these families needed food, but they needed it safely. And they needed it in a time when all of these operations were changing and evolving.
Everybody was taking this so seriously and everybody wanted to keep going. It felt big.
It felt like we were able to be a part of something. As the numbers would rise in the city and as the closures would affect different communities, we could see that the line was getting longer and longer each day.
We could see the amount of food that we were giving to these families grow too.
I was privileged to be a part of it, for four months straight until my job came back and I was absorbed back into that whirlwind. But every single day, Monday through Friday, I was able to see some of the same faces, of the kids and the families. The kids would write notes thanking us and hold them up in the windows of cars. And they would drive by and we’d see how the community had stepped up to support them.
This Grab and Go site became a pipeline to get things to people who needed them. So yes, there was a food insecurity, but there were also days when we had stuff like soccer balls for the kids and things that they could take home, and feminine products and diapers.
We became that pipeline to help and a place for people to come to. This was truly the place to see community in action and to see the impact of all the little things that we were able to do add up.
And for me, what I had to give was time. It was just showing up. That’s what I could contribute and that’s what I could give.
The team leader was the person who kept me coming back. Sherry was the most wonderful human. She took care of those volunteers and she made sure we felt valued. She would help me when I didn’t speak Spanish so well and a lot of the community did.
During a time when we couldn’t be together, that’s where we could. And that’s where you could feel that spirit and that camaraderie and that family.
I could go on and on.
I just am truly privileged that I got to see that. And that it was my first experience with the Red Cross was really something, something wonderful.
Nobody wants to be in the free food line. And it’s not normally a place where you go to celebrate and have a good time. But at our location, we played music and we smiled and we were able to feed the need, but also to feed the love that it was to be able to contribute in a time like this.
I will always keep coming back to the Red Cross. The opportunity that I had to connect with those people and the friendships I made… I would never have had the opportunity to meet those people in any other circumstance.
I mean, we’re all from such different walks of life, both the families I got to meet and the volunteers that were right there with me and the school staff that just tirelessly worked to figure this out and to keep this going.
They’re names I will just cherish and always keep up with. And like I said, no other opportunity would have ever afforded me this experience.
Thank you for what you guys do and how quickly you become plugged into these places of need, because it’s so hugely special and awesome. The need is great and you’re a wonderful organization. And this only goes to prove that. Thank you truly for letting me be even just a small part of the Red Cross.