The summer was winding down, and the heat was ramping up. It was one of those weeks where my cat was laying in front of the A/C because even he couldn’t take the humidity. While I had been hard at work fielding buckets of emails about Hurricane Lane, I found refuge in the fact that when I got home at night I could rest in a safe, cool environment and be ready to take on the next day as it comes. This is a level of safety that not everyone enjoys, especially our friends out in the field.
My name is Melissa, and while I am a proud employee of the Red Cross, I don’t often get the opportunity to feel the impact of our organization on the ground. You see, I get the honor to work with the Development Team in the Albany office – raising dollars that makes it possible for Red Cross volunteers to do the work in our community every day. But some days feel like there’s several degrees of separation from my role and the life-saving work that our volunteers do and I lose touch with the impact that we are making with every dollar that we raise.
This week, however, I was met with an opportunity that reminded me why I’m here.
It was just hours after I had a heart-swelling conversation with my boss about humanity where he had suggested that if I got a DAT (Disaster Action Team) call that day, that I should leave the office and respond – to get back in touch with the work that we do.
So, when my phone rang after lunch, I was quick to answer the call.
When I arrived on-scene I recognized the Lead DAT Responder by her bright red vest – I knew I was in the right place.
We were greeted by a beautiful young girl, about 9 years old, in a bright pink dress with big brown eyes. It was her home that was shut down the night before by code enforcement, because of an electrical fire that triggered the city to condemn the building – they were homeless. As we stood in the 95-degree heat, sweat dripping down my back, we learned how she and her mother were left without a safe place to sleep the night before, and that she was scared because she didn’t know where they were going to go. My heart sunk to my stomach as I wondered if my A/C was left on so it was cool when I got home that night. Here I was, in live action, recognizing the privilege that I had of having a safe home to go to after work, while there were members of my community left homeless by a home fire standing right in front of me. I realized the things I that I take for granted aren’t necessarily a given to the rest of us.
We delivered financial support immediately to this family so they could sleep in a hotel that night – in a safe, cool environment – so they could take the crisis down a notch and figure out what their next steps to recovery were. When we gave them their cash card, the young girl, holding a new Mickey Mouse doll from her comfort kit, teared up and thanked us with a huge smile shining across her face. It was in that moment that I realized – we didn’t just hand out money, we handed out hope – we offered comfort and safety to a worried child’s heart. We shared information and resources to find housing, food and other emergency services, and we were quickly on our way back home.
We didn’t just hand out money, we handed out hope.
Just like that – we could respond, support and deliver care to victims of a home fire, without hesitation. Then it clicked – we could do that because of the work that I do every day in my little cubicle, plugging away on processing donor dollars – it does matter.
If we didn’t have donors who stood up and showed up for our mission, I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I do. That family wouldn’t be safe tonight, sheltered from the threatening heat, comforted by the fact that they aren’t alone in the world. It’s the individual donors and the companies that serve our community which make this possible; those that write philanthropic checks to give back to little girls like this one, providing security and hope that things will be alright again.
I returned home that night and I looked up at my smoke alarm and thought, yea – tomorrow’s going to be a good day at work. I’m going to work passionately on my projects knowing that this family is safe tonight, and so many others, because of the mission of the American Red Cross.
Thank you for being a part of the American Red Cross, and inspiring me to continue to show up for my community every day.
Written by Melissa Fleck, Development Coordinator