A crucial part of being a Red Cross volunteer is the commitment and willingness to be “at the ready” in the face of disaster. While people across the country were watching Hurricane Florence barrel towards the Carolinas at an alarming category 4 pace, Red Cross volunteers began preparing for possible deployment.
To get a better idea of what exactly volunteer deployment is, what it involves, and what the experience is like, we’re sharing the experience of a local Chicago Red Cross volunteer who has recently returned from deployment.
Meet Geoff Fishwick: Now living in Wheaton but born and raised in the city, Geoff considers himself a true Chicagoan. After retiring from work as a manager of a commodity trading firm, Geoff was drawn to the Red Cross through his familiarity with responsibility and collaborating with others in order to accomplish a goal. He has been with the Red Cross for about 8.5 years and this was his third long-term deployment of 2 or more weeks.
For this deployment, Geoff was mostly stationed in Florence, South Carolina where he worked in logistics for about 13 days. When asked about the role he usually takes on in volunteer situations, Geoff described himself as, “short- not only in stature but in talk. I try and be friendly and open to everybody and say, this is what we need to have done, and this is how I’d like to see it done.”
Being activated for deployment often occurs on very short notice. Geoff said if he has the time, and approval of his family, he usually puts himself down for two weeks of deployment. When a hurricane hits and he gets that phone call, Geoff is ready to go. Geoff says that the Red Cross of Chicago has made him very well trained as a volunteer, especially in roles such as shelter manager and kitchen manager. He emphasizes that flexibility during deployment is important: “you have to be willing to take on whatever comes your way.”
For those of us who have never been deployed to aid in disaster relief, Geoff explains a little bit about what it’s like: “An average day on deployment usually means getting up pretty early for a meeting at the shelter to say ‘this is what we’re looking for.’ After that I’d usually meet up with my logistics team and look at what supplies had to be moved and how many shelters needed to be opened to meet the needs of the people. At the end of the day, you try and prepare for the next day as best you can.”
A memory that sticks out for Geoff was when one day, while volunteering at an elementary school that had been turned into a shelter, Geoff and other volunteers came across a rattlesnake that was blocking the entrance to the building. “Let me think of a nice way to say this… the rattlesnake expired. We had to get rid of it.”
Of course, some of Geoff’s more personal experiences with members of the communities stood out to him as the most meaningful parts of his trip. “People thanking you… that can be moving,” Geoff said.
“One woman I met came up and thanked me for saving her and her kid’s life. It bothers you because you’re going away and you can’t help them forever. But that’s part of your job, and I am just grateful to be a part of it. ”
Interested in volunteering with the Red Cross and helping with disasters big and small? Visit www.redcross.org/volunteer to find a volunteer opportunity for you!
About the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois:
The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois serves 9.5 million people in 21 counties including Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kankakee, Kendall, Jo Daviess, LaSalle, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Stephenson, Whiteside, Will and Winnebago. The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit us at redcross.org/il/chicago or visit us on Twitter @ChicagoRedCross.
Written by Sophie Kendrick, Communications and Marketing Intern