Helping Hands | Red Cross volunteers work to turn heartbreak into hope

One of the greatest gifts we can give this holiday season is the gift of hope. The American Red Cross has a long history of turning heartbreak into hope. Locally, Centre Communities Chapter volunteers stand ready to help victims of devastating fires and other natural disasters. Armed with warm blankets, stuffed animals and compassionate hearts, they head out on their mission in the dead of night and in the worst of weather conditions.

The volunteers help those who have just lost everything to take the first most difficult steps on the road to recovery. They often arrive while the embers are still glowing, and they provide immediate financial assistance to ensure that the family can begin to replace clothing, food, prescription medications and other critical items. They also ensure that the family has a safe and warm place to stay.

They bring comfort kits to families, filled with personal hygiene items such as combs and toothbrushes. One fire victim said she was delighted to receive a comb because combing her hair would remind her of what normal life was like. Another man saved the little bottle of hand lotion that was in his kit. He said the lotion was a reminder of where he had been and the goodness he had seen in the world that night when it was offered to him. It was a thrill for yet another woman to shop for a pair of khaki pants after losing everything. She said she felt it signaled a new beginning.

Following larger disasters, the Red Cross may open temporary shelters to provide a refuge from the elements. While watching the Hurricane Sandy coverage, I remember hearing a woman say that she was so tired and wanted to go home but she no longer had a home.

This sentiment is not limited to major disasters. Whether the disaster is large or small, people need to feel they have some place to call home if even for a few days. Red Cross volunteers can make that happen. Suddenly a cot, a hot meal, and a friendly voice will give hope for a better tomorrow. Residents who fled from the Hotel Do De fire in Bellefonte found knew this to be true.

Red Cross disaster mental health volunteers are available around the clock to help families deal with the trauma of loss, and Red Cross caseworkers help families make plans for the future, including securing permanent housing. Our chapter receives support from a variety of community partners and from the Centre County United Way.

Celebrate the new year by learning how you can turn heartbreak into hope by becoming a disaster services volunteer. Contact me at 237-3162 or at virginia.brown@redcross.org.