American Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter
August 7, 2008
What follows is a letter I sent home from my deployment to Louisiana as a Red Cross Volunteer. It would be the first of many national disasters I would volunteer my time.
This truly was an experience of a lifetime for me. The New Orleans area, as you might imagine has been devastated, and as usual it is the poorest of the people that are the hardest hit. I have so many stories of loss and destruction that it would take forever to tell, but one I would like to share may give you an idea of what it is like here for these people.
The last evacuee shelter that I worked was in Lafitte, a small fishing burg deep in the Louisiana Bayou. Almost all of the families at the shelter are Cajun. All have been shrimpers for many generations and are accustom to flooding. But, none like this last one. One family that I became particularly fond of seems pretty typical of the families here. Here is a small part of their story.
The Smith’s were rescued by boat from their home after Hurricane Rita. They thought they had weathered both Katrina and Rita with little damage when a day after Rita hit, a levee broke. The water rose so fast they didn't have a chance to retrieve any of their belongings. Gathering their children into a neighbor’s rowboat they watched as the water quickly filled their house. Within minutes their loss was complete.
On the boat ride out of their small community they passed coffins bobbing in the rising waters. Coffins from family cemeteries that had been washed away by the flood. Some of the men braved the snake-infested waters to lash the coffins to their houses so they could be retrieved after the water had subsided. The Smith’s arrived at the shelter soaked to the skin with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
Jonathon had worked for the local shrimping company most of his forty years. Catherine, thirty-five years old, was soft spoken and fair complexioned. Her sad, brown eyes peered out from a sweet face, framed by long dark hair. She was in her fifth month of pregnancy with her ninth child. I spent quite a bit of time with Catherine at the local clinic while we waited for her pre-natal exams. This gave us a chance to visit and get to know one another a little. I think she enjoyed being alone with another woman and just talking. Stopping at the local Walgreen's to have her prescriptions filled, she shopped with Red Cross money for personal items, de-tangler for her girls and lotion for herself. I suppose it made life feel a little more normal for her.
She told me that she home-schooled all of the younger children. Her children were all bright, polite, well behaved, and extremely loving.
One day I found a box of donated children's books under a pile of used clothes. Dragging it out and letting the children go through it, they each had a chance to pick a book for me to read. This began a daily ritual. Sitting on a mat against a wall in the corner of the shelter, draped with children I would read four or five stories, three or four times a day. Even little two-year-old Samantha would sit the entire time and listen intently.
Catherine's day consisted of digging through the mounds of donated used clothes, searching for the right size for each of her children. Jonathon went off each day with the three older boys in search of work. The younger children played. Their favorite game was to pretend to be Red Cross Workers. We took that as a great compliment.
Their strength of spirit was formidable. They plan to rebuild, and one day go back to fishing the bayou. I have no doubt they will succeed, their resolution is strong.
The thing that struck me most with all of these families was the love and caring within not only the family unit but within their community. The families look after one another and help one another despite their own hardships. Although poor, they are rich in spirit, and rich in tradition.
On a more personal note, the incredible camaraderie of the volunteers that came from all over this country was awe-inspiring. Living under such circumstances we all bonded quickly and looked after one another as well. Our off times were spent getting to know one another, sharing family stories and laughing a lot. A great way to decompress. By the end of our tour of duty, it felt as if we had known each other a lifetime. I hope to continue to correspond with my fellow volunteers for many years to come. I have also sent photos of the children back to Catherine. I suspect they will be the only photo's she will have of her children for quite some time.
I hope this gives you a small glimpse of the Louisiana Bayou, its rich culture, and my incredible life’s journey as a volunteer for the Red Cross.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
action, and it was awesome!
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
It is an incredible feeling to be able to give back in some small way. The pay back is incredible. I'm payed back for my efforts ten fold each time I go out on a deployment. The camaraderie between the volunteers from all over this country is an inspiring thing.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
Helpful, kind, and giving.
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
help rebuild New Orleans.
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
Volunteer & Worked in shelters in New Orleans.