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A Neighbor Helps Through an Everyday Disaster

by Cheryl J.

In February of 2007, my concept of the Red Cross was forever changed. I am a small town worker from Richland Center, Wisconsin. I had just finished removing the last tray of spice cookies from the oven when I realized that the smell of smoke was overcoming the sweet scent of cinnamon and nutmeg. I soon discovered the laundry room was billowing with dense black smoke. By the time I had picked up my essential belongings and rushed out the door, the flames were visible from the road.

The sheriff and fire departments were there in a matter of minutes. I sat in my car, out of the cold, watching the activity and mentally picturing what an inconvenience this situation would create. The unthinkable had happened - the house and everything in it was not salvageable.

At this moment, however, my concern turned quickly from the long-term inconvenience this would cause to the immediate requirements of the next few hours. It was very unsettling to find that the resources on which I believed I could depend in an emergency were unreachable or uncooperative. The insurance company was available only through an 800 number response that took my information and offered no immediate assistance. The majority of my family was either not answering their phones at the moment or too far away to offer any aid. My brother, who was living with me at the time, had left the house earlier that day only to return, not forewarned, to a burning home. Although we had each other, this was a frightening and lonely place to be.

Then, relief came from the place I had least expected, the local Red Cross for Richland.

Don H. represented the Red Cross and appeared with his quiet presence to listen to our worries and assure us. In addition to his comforting words, Don made many arrangements to assure that we would be at ease in the upcoming days, such as making out a dispersing order so we could stay in a motel for a few nights, and applying financial assistance so we could have vital amenities while displaced. He did not leave until he was satisfied we were content.

The sense of relief I felt was tremendous. Not only would I have a roof over my head that night and a bed to sleep in, but I would have the small items which are so important in those first few hours and the means with which to buy warm clothes and obtain meals. I was relieved to know I would have a few days in which to regroup and catch my breath, to investigate the possibility of life returning to normal.

Today, I have a home and have replaced those things that were lost. I am comfortable once again- my life has returned to the sometimes chaotic and sometimes peaceful routine that I know as ordinary. However, I never forget the kindness of all the strangers who came to my aid when I needed it so badly. On that cold night in February, I learned firsthand that there is nothing remote or impersonal about the Red Cross. This giant organization does reach out to the single individual who is suffering a personal tragedy. Volunteers like Don arrive to provide comfort and assurance when there is no grand scale devastation, when there is no news camera or reporter to document the effort.

You have the power to touch the lives of your neighbors. Do not lose sight of the simple fact that we can mean so much to a person in need. To get in touch with the local disaster relief agencies in your community, please keyword search on Serve.gov: "disaster" or "relief" or "recovery" or "Citizen Corps" or "fire department" or "police" or "safety."

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