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Editor’s note: this story pairs with “How $10 donations help natural disaster victims”
More than 100 red and white vans wait in a parking lot, back doors open wide. Red containers are filled with food by volunteers, then stacked in the back, ready for the first run of the day. By the time Red Cross volunteer John Fisher is ready to go, some trucks have already left the lot to deliver food.
Fisher has been a volunteer with Red Cross for five years. He received training in disaster response and in driving the Emergency Response Vehicle or ERV. Taking supplies to Texas was his way of putting those skills to work.
“I thought this was a way to give back but to also use the training that I received,” Fisher said. “That’s what motivated me.”
Driving an ERV gave Fisher a first-hand view of the devastation Hurricane Harvey wrought across Texas neighborhoods. But he also saw the resilience and kindness of the people.
“People are so resilient in terms of being able to recover from the devastation. It’s a marvelous thing,” Fisher said.
“I met a woman named Irene. Her home wasn’t affected by the floods,” he said. “She lived in Corpus Christy, south of Houston, but Rockport was badly hit. She saw the need. She’s sort of taken over and has a food depot. She’s done it with donations and a bit of her own money. When Red Cross came by every day, she was helping. She saw the need and responded.”
The food is provided and prepared by various churches and nonprofit organizations and taken to affected neighborhoods in the morning and afternoon. The response, according to Provo chapter disaster manager Jeff Beaty, was generally positive.
“You would go into neighborhoods and look for the largest piles of trash because where there’s trash, there are people trying to save their homes,” said Beaty. “They would go in and serve meals and volunteers said everybody was thankful that there was a meal because people could keep working and keep going.”
Red Cross also provided shelters to house those who found themselves without a place to stay. Fisher said the shelters were much bigger than he thought they’d be. In a mass crisis drill held at the UCCU center in Orem, close to 400 cots were laid to cover the entire floor. The shelter Fisher visited held more than 8,000.
“Families typically are registered together and sleep together,” said Fisher. “They can bring their beds together, so they try not make it too impersonal, but it’s much larger.”
Some families couldn’t make it to shelters and instead help had to be brought to them. Beaty spoke of a time when the Red Cross made a life-or-death rescue for a family surrounded by water.
“Our director, Amber Savage, had a situation where there was a family in Belmont that was landlocked. They were basically surrounded by water. They had a child with very special needs, basically, anything the child ate could kill the child. The family had a very special formula for the child, but they were stuck and couldn’t get out and had no more formula.
“The Red Cross called around and searched, and found somebody who had two cases of it. They flew it out in a black hawk helicopter. The National Guard landed in the front yard and handed them that formula, and that’s the kind of services that Red Cross tries to provide.”