For Every Henry, There is a Chuck: Stories from Louisiana

Written by Brian McDaniel, Executive Director of the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley

As the people of Louisiana recover from Hurricane Ida, thousands of humanitarians are working to help people recover over this Labor Day in 2021.

Without a doubt, hundreds of great things happened today; I want to tell you about one of them.

Fuel here is scarce right now.  There is no power to pump gas; and in areas where there is power, gas stations quickly run dry.  Late last week, the State of Louisiana set up fuel depots so ambulances, linemen, and other essential vehicles (such as Red Cross food trucks) keep running.

Chuck Massaro, Dannette DePando, and I were on our way back from distributing 400 meals when we decided to stop at one of the fuel depots.  This particular location also has a shelter where people displaced by Hurricane Ida can find a safe place to stay.  Our team delivers breakfast to this shelter every morning, so we know it well.

As we drove towards the site, down the narrow, two lane road, we noticed a man pumping his wheelchair in the middle of the street.  Large trucks were passing on both sides, and he was doing is best not to get hurt.  Danette asked to check on the man, and we stopped.

Looking scared and a bit upset, the man said that he was trying to get to the shelter.  Could we give him a ride?  Quickly assessing the back of our vehicle, we knew he and his wheel chair would not fit.  The vehicle was built for the distribution of food, not this situation.

What happened next was one of the most amazing examples of human kindness I have witnessed.  Chuck Massaro, a Red Cross volunteer on his very first deployment, jumped out of our vehicle and started pushing the man and his wheelchair towards the shelter.  Danette, a Red Crossers from Utah, joined, and I put our large Mercedes Sprinter Van right behind them to block traffic.  Together, we all moved towards the shelter for nearly two miles.

As Chuck pushed the wheelchair, Dannette talked with the man.  His name was Henry.  He escaped Belle Rose but not after Ida had destroyed his home.  Once we reached the shelter, Dannette made sure the staff was aware of Henry’s situation.  Chuck took Henry to a truck serving snow cones.  We said our goodbyes and left to load up on diesel.

There are so many stories like Henry’s that take place after a disaster.  There are many Chucks and many Dannettes; ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  They keep the human in humanitarian; and bring hope to those who are dealing with the worst day of their lives.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Cross, sign up at redcross.org/volunteertoday

Illinois Region Volunteers Respond to Hurricane Ida

“You’ve got to get out there and be part of the answer; part of the solution.”

– Illinois Region Red Cross volunteer Tom Hansen

Hurricane Ida has made landfall along the Louisiana coast today already bringing catastrophic wind damage, dangerous tornadoes and storm surge to a region still recovering from last year’s hurricane season.

August 29, 2021. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Wendy Halsey of the American Red Cross talks with Hermaine Collins-Jordan from Baton Rouge and her family as they settle in at an evacuation center on Sunday August 29, 2021. Hurricane Ida is also hitting Gulf Coast on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, bringing stark reminders of one of the greatest natural disasters to ever strike the United States. Hermaine spoke of her grandfather, who passed away from an infection after venturing out in flood waters to help others in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While remembering his memory, this mother of four stays strong and upbeat for her family as they wait out the storm together. Some 600 Red Cross volunteers are either on the ground or staged to support relief efforts after Ida makes landfall. Across Louisiana and Mississippi, the Red Cross and other organizations have opened dozens of evacuation shelters, offering safe refuge for hundreds of people. The number of open shelters and people staying in them is changing hourly. Photo by Scott Dalton/American Red Cross

In addition to pre-positioned supplies, the Red Cross has moved truckloads of additional cots, blankets and comfort kits, along with tens of thousands of ready-to-eat meals into Louisiana and Mississippi this weekend.

Around 600 Red Cross volunteers are either on the ground there or staged to support imminent relief efforts from sheltering to feeding. About 60 volunteers from the Illinois region are currently working on a disaster either locally or nationally, with about a dozen volunteers directly responding to Ida.

A Red Cross emergency response vehicle (erv) based in the Illinois River Valley Chapter stands by for deployment to the gulf coast for Hurricane Ida

Volunteers from up and down Illinois are either already in Louisiana or are making their way there this week. Tom Hansen of Deerfield is going on his first deployment with the Red Cross after a lifetime of helping as part of the Navy Reserves. He says he’s looking forward to positively contributing when so many people are facing uncertainty in the storm.

“You’ve got to get out there and be a part of the answer, part of the solution,” he said. “Once I retired from the Navy Reserves, joining the Red Cross to continue helping was just part of a smooth transition. Life is full of adventure, and I appreciate this opportunity.”

Sarge Hughes gets ready to drive the ERV to Louisiana

Early Monday morning, volunteers were rolling the Red Cross ERVs out of the Chicago and Rockford offices. Charles “Sarge” Hughs says this is the best way for him to keep busy after retiring. After a safety inspection of an ERV, Sarge starting driving toward Louisiana with Chicago in the rearview mirror.

Jackie Speciale of Woodstock has been a volunteer since 2012 and has done many deployments, but each disaster is different and presents a different set of obstacles. Jackie says she is always happy to help.

Jackie Speciale getting ready to drive the ERV to Louisiana from Romeoville

COVID-19 has not changed the Red Cross mission. We are helping families in the same way we always have — and ensuring people have a safe place to stay during disasters is a critical part of that support.

How we support sheltering efforts may be diffe rent in each community, depending on local emergency plans and the scale of the disaster.

We plan to open group shelters for people evacuating in the face of tropical storms and have appropriate precautions in place to help reduce the risk of exposure to COVID -19.

To help keep everybody safe, everyone in Red Cross emergency shelters is required to wear face coverings.

For those evacuating and looking for the latest open shelter locations near you, call 211, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or download the free Red Cross Emergency app.

Interested in joining the Red Cross as a volunteer? Learn more here: https://www.redcross.org/local/illinois/volunteer.html