When you see hope start to grow, that’s the most rewarding thing.
Marilee Thomas volunteers in many capacities with the Red Cross, including as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) member providing comfort and essentials for people after local disasters such as home fires or floods.
“Going on a DAT call, you never know what you’re going into,” says Marilee. “Typically, you’re meeting someone during what they’re probably going to remember as one of the worst times in their life.”
We were interested to hear more about her experience especially, as she says, “I can talk all day about the Red Cross because that’s what I love.”
Have you deployed to national disasters?
I went to Houston for flooding. I went to Kentucky for another flood; it was a very violent flash flood—that was different. I went to North Carolina. I was in Wilmington. I did a virtual deployment for South Dakota and I did casework review for them.
What is your favorite part about volunteering with Red Cross?
Doing casework is probably my most favorite thing, I always come back to casework. Starting out just listening to them, letting them tell their story, then making the connection of referrals or what we can do to help them so that they start on their path to recovery. And it’s very rewarding to see them—sometimes they’re upset, sometimes they’re still kind of in shock, trying to process things. But then, when you see hope start to grow, that’s the most rewarding thing.
What memories of responses stand out to you?
In Houston, I’ll always remember this man that [said] “I’m sorry if this is too much information, but I don’t even have a pair of dry underwear.” Just the story of how he had taken in his niece—her father had recently passed away from cancer and her mom was going through foreclosure. So, he gave her a stable place to live—or so he thought. Then the flood came, and they eventually sat on their kitchen counter tops. He was nearly crying when he said she looked at him and asked if ‘we’re going to die’ and he didn’t know what to say to her.
In Texas, we had gone into a restaurant to eat supper and as we left, all the people stood up and they applauded—we got a standing ovation! It was just nice to know that we were appreciated that much. We don’t ask for the recognition, but we were pleased that they were that happy about us being there to help. No matter what you do with the Red Cross, you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life.
We’re always looking for more volunteers to help their neighbors in need after disasters like home fires. Tuesdays this November (5, 12, 19 and 26) from 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., the Red Cross is hosting informational calls to learn more about volunteering. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for call-in details or to set up a time that works for you.
Interview by Caroline Nelson/American Red Cross Minnesota Region