Red Cross seeks volunteers to respond to disastersIn the wake of Superstorm Sandy, thousands of American Red Cross volunteers, including one from Jamestown, headed to the East Coast to lend a hand.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, thousands of American Red Cross volunteers, including one from Jamestown, headed to the East Coast to lend a hand.
But more help is needed, and people from all walks of life with all kinds of skills are wanted to assist with local, regional and national disasters, said Beth Dewald, executive director of the Buffalo Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.
In the Buffalo Valley region, there are 45 disaster-trained volunteers, most living in Stutsman or Barnes County. They all contribute different skills to their work with the Red Cross, from accounting to food service and food safety.
“We have all kinds of functions that happen in disaster response,” Dewald said. “… they’re all important.”
Before a disaster, there are people who help plan and prepare in advance. For example, one husband-and-wife pair of volunteers is updating all the local shelter agreements with the Red Cross.
After a disaster, volunteers help with damage assessment to determine needs — shelter, food, numbers of emergency response workers and utility workers.
The needs aren’t always visible or on site, however, and volunteers can contribute without ever leaving their communities. Volunteers are even needed to do office work.
Volunteers are needed to help at shelters, drive emergency response vehicles, work with the media, raise funds, offer technical support, input data, track volunteers or costs, communicate with government officials and assist with health and mental health care.
Job expectations vary quite a bit depending on the job, Dewald said, but volunteers do receive training, either within the region, or with local or online classes.
Many ways to help
Volunteers who are trained to respond to disasters generally fall into three groups:
* Local volunteers respond within their area, and usually their tasks last a few hours at a time.
These are the volunteers who respond to single-family dwelling fires, staff winter shelters and help with storm response.
“It’s adventurous and fun, especially when you get the satisfaction of helping a family or a person … that’s in need,” said Jeff Wolsky of Jamestown, who has been a Red Cross volunteer for nine years.
In the past, he’s helped people get clothing, shelter and food after a fire, and he’s also helped feed firefighters in the event of a lengthy fire.
* Regional volunteers have to be able to commit to a two-week volunteering stint.
* National volunteers must be able to commit to working at least two weeks, and preferably three. Some people can only do that once a year, but that is enough, Dewald said.
The Red Cross pays for volunteers to reach their destinations, whether it is a flight or driving an emergency response vehicle, or even renting a car. The Red Cross also arranges for lodging, which might be a motel but might also be a staff shelter with a cot or sleeping bag.
Meals are paid for, too, but following a disaster, they are likely to be the same meals the volunteers are providing to others.
Darlene Porter, Jamestown, has been a Red Cross volunteer for about five years. When Minot flooded, she helped set up kitchens and served food to people in need.
“The damage and stuff was really devastating, but the people, the clients that I met were awesome, as well as the fellow Red Cross workers,” Porter said. “It is just amazing, the things you do and see, and the people you meet.”
More than 3,000 Red Cross volunteers had already arrived at the East Coast by Thursday morning, setting up 115 Red Cross shelters. More than 165,000 meals had been served to disaster victims, and 334,000 shelf-stable meals had been sent.
Jamestown volunteer Dave Smette, a retired superintendent, was initially set to go to Connecticut, but was sent to New Jersey instead.
He had been on standby since Oct. 26, with his departure confirmed Oct. 30, and he left the following day with an emergency response vehicle, along with Melissa Shepard, a volunteer from Dickinson, N.D.
Smette will be deployed for two weeks.
You can help
Donations to the American Red Cross can be made at its website, www.redcross.org.
Designating the gift to “disaster relief” helps money get to wherever the need is greatest, Dewald said.
Donations of $10 can also be made by texting REDCROSS to 90999.
To volunteer with Buffalo Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, call Dewald at 701-252-3550, extension 2131.
More information is available at http://www.redcross.org/ND/Fargo.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453
or by email at