The forecast was grim. Storms were coming, with the capacity to produce tornados, bursts of rain and lightning strikes. It was spread across our state, including a direct hit on the 15,000 campers at a popular aircraft show in Oshkosh.
Still, I knew no matter what this storm threw at us, we were in good hands. American Red Cross volunteers like Cliff, Becky and Chris were bringing supplies to an evacuation center for families, including those campers, to safely ride out the rough weather. American Red Cross volunteers like Sharon, Federico and Mark were remotely helping as incidents came in across Wisconsin, providing relief for families put out of their homes by ripped off roofs and fires. American Red Cross volunteers like Debbie and Steve were out in neighborhoods the next morning, bringing people clean up supplies, recovery assistance and, sometimes most important of all, comfort.
These are our volunteers, but they’re also your neighbors. And after a challenging 16 months – where volunteer numbers have declined even though needs have not – I’m asking you to consider joining these local heroes as a disaster volunteer with the world’s largest humanitarian organization.
Volunteers truly make the Red Cross mission possible. More than 90 percent of what we do is led by your neighbors, your friends, your family, your co-workers. Disaster volunteers can serve in any number of roles, including assisting families after a fire, delivering meals to numerous people at a shelter, and dispatch guidance for our teams and partners. It all happens with plenty of training and support, and in just a few hours each month. And it comes to people when they need it most. Local Red Cross volunteers helped more than than 4,500 families displaced by home fires or floods last year. Our teams were a lifeline to families with nowhere else to stay, to parents processing how to talk to their children about losing a home, to apartment residents unsure of their next steps. For many people, on their darkest day, it was a volunteer with the Red Cross who helped to see them through.
But we need more volunteers. Frankly, the pandemic has understandably led some volunteers to put their commitments on pause, both virtual and in person. We’re also coming through some of the busiest months of local and national disaster response in our organization’s history. As we continue to adapt – with an eye on innovation but always with the health and safety of our teams at the forefront – it’s also important to bolster our volunteer ranks with new members and people from a wider range of our communities.
Our volunteers come from all backgrounds and walks of life, just like the people we serve. They live in every corner of our state and the U.P., from bigger cities to unincorporated towns. I’m extremely grateful for the compassion and talent that our hundreds of local volunteers provide each year with disaster preparedness, response and recovery. As someone who works alongside them – regardless of what’s in the forecast – I’ve learned what it takes to make our communities prepared and resilient. For starters, it takes involvement from our volunteers, people like you.
You can make an impact in our communities as a Disaster Action Team volunteer. Take the first step. Visit RedCross.org and click “Volunteer”. Or reach out to us to find out more at VolunteerWisconsin@redcross.org or by calling 800 RED CROSS (733-2767).
Mark Thomas is the CEO of the Wisconsin Region of the American Red Cross, which provides disaster relief and preparedness; blood collection and distribution; support for veterans, service members and their families; and life-saving trainings like CPR and swim safety.