The first call for help woke my husband Ken and I at 2:30 a.m. on Labor day, as a rapidly growing fire in the Okanogan (again) had exploded and was heading south, threatening homes as it advanced.
As Red Cross volunteers, we were both on-call to virtually help evacuees.
My assignment was to reach out to clients who had already called the Red Cross Hot Line because they were at level 3 evacuation orders (“Get out NOW”) and needed a place to stay.
I would do a virtual intake interview with them by phone to determine their needs (shelter in a hotel, meals, health services, emotional support, spiritual care, pet care and more). Ken was assigned to then find and book them into appropriate hotels since the Red Cross tries to avoid congregate sheltering due to COVID-19.
That 2:30 a.m. call was from a man who had escaped the fire with such little warning that he had left with only the clothes on his back and his dog.
“I didn’t even have time to grab my medications,” he anxiously told me from the back of the Sheriff’s car as they drove away from the fire. Ken found him a room in a nearby hotel that was pet friendly, and I put in a request for Red Cross health services to call him about replacing his medications.
Ken and I had just dozed off around 4:30 a.m. when my phone rang again. It was a call from our same client who said, “I just thought you’d want to know, I’m checked into my room and I just really wanted to say thank you.”
As the hours passed and calls rapidly came in for us to handle, the fire alarmingly jumped the Columbia River and headed toward Bridgeport and Brewster.
As I interviewed clients over the phone, it was like dropping into the middle of their unique, family crisis, with all its chaos and complications right in the midst of packing up to evacuate. Everything else in my life fell away as I became one with them in that moment.
.......it feels amazing to be able to assure our clients that the Red Cross has their backs, and they are not alone. We not only provide shelter, but we offer care and hope.
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