Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Mollo: Red Cross Volunteer: Expiration Date: n/a

I went to work at the Red Cross building in town yesterday and didn't expect much. Our area had pretty much taken care of everybody. They'd all been registered and given their Walmart vouchers. Quite a few of them are moving into housing, even across the street from me. So working yesterday was supposed to be rather easy, merely answering the phones for all the people calling in. They expected more calls about donations than people asking for help.

However, when I drove into the parking lot, waves of people had to move so that I could get to the very last parking space. Another group of ten people lingered right outside the door. The inside of the tiny building was packed. They had to take a chair back from somebody so that I could sit and answer phones.

The organization was perfect- by the refugees, not the Red Cross. The Red Cross was completely blindsided by this new development. Apparently, the whole Vietnamese community had organized carpools and groups and sent them all up to Bryan to get processed instead of staying at the mess in Houston. The old phrase "boatloads of Vietnamese refugees" has a completely new meaning to me now! Almost every one of them spoke English and there were plenty of helpful translators for the few with heavy accents. A self-appointed herald helped Rick call out numbers in his native language.

Sharon, the leader of this small band of volunteers, worked hard to call everybody in and get enough trained workers. Slowly, the pace of processed people picked up. We had processed 80 people and groups but I was passing out waiting ticket #126 when I left. Vietnamese people were calling for driving directions from all different areas of Houston, Bellaire and the Woodlands. I started telling them that they had to wait until tomorrow but they were still welcome. The Red Cross never says, "Don't come here." In fact, the workers said that they would be staying as long as possible to get as many as possible through the process. They wouldn't be kicking them out at 5pm sharp like a business. Sharon was really worried that they were going to run out of 901 forms. I hope they got their shipment today like they expected.

The American Red Cross fills just one tiny niche of the entire help process. They only provide emergency relief- enough clothes and food to make it through tomorrow. When you have absolutely nothing, the Red Cross will be there. They give you a voucher to Walmart to get basic clothes and food of your choice. The United Way and government programs pick up the process from there. Our town set up a one building as a one-stop shopping experience for all other needs- donations, housing, medical info, FEMA, and other programs. We tried to send as many people as possible over there because they were giving vouchers there too but there were just too many people. Rick said this was probably the busiest day in the Brazos Valley Red Cross chapter's history. Wow.

And as I mentioned briefly above, yes, a group has moved into an apartment right across the street from me. And I expect more because there are a few more open apartments in the buildings. They are a family of 13, shoved into a small two-bedroom apartment. Other friends can be seen coming and going during the day. They had a barbecue the other night and it got a wee bit rowdy. But that's what happens when you're under such tension- you start fighting with even your friends. I went over last night and gave them a toaster, a muffin pan, and some kid size cups. There were two very tired men there and 4 little boys running around. Half of them were wearing Aggie t-shirts. Clarence shook my hand and asked for our prayers. He said that the family had been well taken care of by the people here.

Also, I think the people of Louisiana have solved the "evacuee" vs. "refugee" problem. I've always referred to the people who got here before the storm as evacuee, reserving the refugee title to those who left under duress. But the people who called in always referred to themselves as a "Louisiana survivor." Hey, that will work for me too.

Welcome to Texas survivors. What took you so long to get here?


MHN for short said...

That's a great post. You guys are really doing God's work. If I were a Catholic I'd say you have earned your crown, but we are Lutherans and we know that there ain't no head dresses in Heaven. :-)

mollo said...

Yup, it's so easy being a Christian. ;)