In January 2016 Groups and individuals from all over the United States flew into Flint Bishop Airport or drove hours to donate their time and skills to alleviate the disaster of lead contamination with the Flint Water Crisis. For months, 1000’s of volunteers converged on this metropolitan area of 38,000 homes and 100,000 people. It was an amazing experience volunteering for the American Red Cross and I took it as an insightful opportunity to share the experience. Here is what I learned.
Come Prepared to Work, Anywhere Your Needed
Flint Michigan was classified to be in the State of Emergency in response to the water crisis where thousands of residents were exposed to toxic amounts of lead. As a result, the call for volunteers was made and coordination efforts began.
If you volunteer, you may have signed up for a specific job but if there is an immediate need you WILL be placed where you’re needed. In the Flint Crisis, the front line job was going door-to-door passing out bottled water, filters, and test kits. (It’s the best) Working in the warehouse is also a possibility. Therefore be a good Scout and Be Prepared. This includes wearing coats and clothing that you’re comfortable working in and getting dirty. Wear work or hiking boots. Warm socks. Gloves and hats. Bring a snack, some cash, and even stuff to share with your crew like gum or hard candy. By the end of the day, you and your crew should be working in unison and small comforts are wonderful.
Keep A Positive Attitude
Keep in mind that everyone you are working with is a volunteer. Even the trained DR (Disaster Recovery), people are only getting their expenses paid otherwise they are working for free. There may be times where nothing is going on and Red Cross and DR folk are on the phone coordinating their next move. Things change quickly and learn to be adaptive. Be supportive and positive as these guys get stressed they have been doing this for weeks. When you knock on doors be positive and helpful. If you get a disgruntled individual to tell them your here to help but respect their privacy.
Educate Yourself About the Crisis
Read the labels on the water filters, test kits, and pamphlets that you will be passing out. Read the instructions out loud to your crew. Talk about it. Residents are anxious and will be asking YOU questions. You’re wearing a Red Cross vest and ID, you’re considered the “expert” and the authority at their door. If you don’t know, tell them you will find out and get an answer from the para-professionals. If your team doesn’t know say so and be prepared to give the residents resources and phone numbers to someone who can help.
When you get back to the ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle), report what you have learned. If they have kids, say so. If you think they are a shut-in, point it out. If they are an extended family in the house get another case of water and make a note of it. If they want nothing to do with you, say so. That is your job! Your efforts today will bring better results tomorrow.
Keep Your Eyes Open for Each Other
The dangers of going door to door are ACCIDENTS. Cars, Dogs, and falls on ice are the enemies in the winter. Work in pairs or a team of three. Yell out when a car is coming. Tell everyone within earshot that you’re on a patch of ice. When you knock on a door yell RED CROSS loud! DO NOT go into a yard with Dog or Guard Dog warnings posted. DO NOT go into a house unless it’s an emergency. Stay within sight of each other. Put the cell phone away. If a porch seems ready to cave in, back off go to the side door. If you get hurt, say so, and go back to the ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) Our crew had no incidents and this resulted in over 150 homes being visited and two pallets of water being distributed.
Be Prepared to be Amazed
You will be working in a National Disaster Area. You will see Red Cross ERVs crossing the city everywhere and you will see everyday life going on. It may seem like chaos but you’re here helping out. You will knock on the door of a house that your sure is vacant only to be answered by an 89-year-old who isn’t sure about how to get the filter on. Note that a young guy takes care of five kids during the day and he works at midnight. You will smell weed. You will be offered gifts. You will see folk making the best of what they have and you will gain a new respect for them. It’s a life-changing experience and I understand why some people are hooked on being a DR groupie.