GUEST EDITORIAL • A Call For More Humanitarians

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The forecast was grim.

What we thought could be a bad thunderstorm turned into streets flooded and the town of Gibson City was soaked when nearly nine inches of rain fell in just five hours. The roads were impassable, and some people even needed to be rescued from their home. It was devastating, but we came together. People looked out for each other and our volunteers were ready.

As the waters subsided, American Red Cross of Illinois volunteers like Diana and Emily headed out into neighborhoods to distribute clean up supplies. More volunteers like Shaila and Cindy opened up recovery resources for people and worked with individual families on figuring out how to bounce back from the historic flooding. The Red Cross opened a multi-agency resource center, a “one-stop-shop” for all the available resources to come together and make it just a little easier for people to access. Our volunteers offered guidance, help and most importantly, 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.

When Hurricane Ida swept through the Gulf Coast and left a trail of destruction, volunteers across our area stepped up again and within hours we had people from our region getting on planes or driving emergency response vehicles toward Louisiana. We’ll be there as long as we need to with volunteers rotating in for weeks at a time helping on this massive response. Volunteers bring their passion, their skills and their dedication to the Red Cross. Even people who don’t always have the time, seem to always have the heart.

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 9,135 individuals 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. Like many organizations, 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. 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. We need people with all sorts of experiences to volunteer, no specific skills are required for a disaster or shelter volunteer, just a willingness to help others. We also need nurses and others with a health background to consider being a health services volunteer.

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 VolunteerIllinois@redcross.org or by calling 312-729-6222.

Dawn Morris is the Executive Director of the American Red Cross Serving South Central Illinois 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.

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