When the American Red Cross was told that dozens of men were displaced by a fire at the YMCA where they lived late in the evening on July 3rd; volunteers quickly opened a shelter. We made sure that these men had a cool place to sleep, special needs were met (those in wheelchairs needed certain accommodations to be comfortable overnight) and that they had the comforts they needed to make their time away from home bearable.
What level of importance would you assign to things like having a cool place to sleep on a hot summer day and being able to brush your teeth, see kind faces and eat nutritious meals-when you’re forced to be away from home?
I’m not sure what I expected when I arrived at the shelter but I can tell you it wasn’t what I found. I’m often surprised by the people I meet on disasters and this group was no different.
They were all colors, shapes, sizes and ages-in all manner of dress from business suits to workout clothes. Some sat quietly reading books or working on laptops, others slept on Red Cross cots in the gym and many gathered in small groups, talking and waiting for news about their home.
Muhammed, an entrepreneur, told me he was launching a new business; although he was evacuated from his residence he grabbed his briefcase, coffee samples and brochures about his product on the way out; he shared these things with me when he found out I was a coffee lover. Then there was Joseph, he had worked in telecom in D.C. for several years; in fact he was there during 9-11 and we talked about the Red Cross and how we helped and how surreal that whole day was; he told me about having to walk 8 miles home that day because all public transportation had been closed. He relocated to Chicago, moved into a 3-bedroom home and worked for a large business development and consulting firm-until recently when the economy started to tumble. He lost his job and home and ultimately moved into the YMCA while searching for new employment. Joseph said, “this fire, it’s just a temporary setback. I’m glad it’s July 4th and not January 4th; the cold would be a whole different story. It’s a beautiful day, we had a place to sleep, friendly people to care for us and good food. We’re doing just fine.”
Martha Carlos is the Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications at the American
Red Cross of Greater Chicago, firstname.lastname@example.org