Tag: Volunteer

‘Iowa Nice is More Than Just a T-Shirt Slogan,’ Red Cross Says After Flood of New Volunteers

DES MOINES, Iowa  —  First Harvey hit. Then came Irma. Jose and Maria are now threatening. Mother Nature is bringing a fury of hurricanes, but also a steady stream of Iowa volunteers.

“Iowans are coming out to volunteer and help out,” the American Red Cross Iowa Region’s Senior Volunteer Specialist Tasmania “Taz” Stills said on Monday. “Iowa nice is more than just a t-shirt slogan.”

The numbers tell the story. The Red Cross usually has a list of about 600 Iowans who are signed up as volunteers for disaster relief, but since the hurricanes hit earlier this month, 400 additional people have reached out to the organization about volunteering.

The Red Cross requires a person to be available for a minimum two-week deployment, often on little notice. But lately, Iowans have been asking for more.

“The most common question is definitely, ‘What if I want to stay longer,'” Stills said of what he has heard from volunteers during training.

And what would she tell them? “We will work to make that happen,” Stills said. “We need it, especially in this unprecedented disaster response.”

The Red Cross held an all-day training session for more than  a dozen new volunteers at its Des Moines office on Monday. Volunteers could be deployed to a disaster site as soon as this week.

Iowan’s Heart Still Heavy After More Than Two Weeks of Hurricane Relief

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey was not easy to stomach.

"I cry a lot, I feel bad for all of them. I just feel bad for all of them," said Iowa Red Cross volunteer Brenda Kamish.

For 16 days, Brenda provided relief support at a mega shelter in Dallas. "I was on concrete all day setting up 5,000 cots for people and feeding them with the Salvation Army," she said.

Texans who left their homes behind with just a bag of belongings.

"The people from Beaumont were picked up on boats from their homes because the water rose so fast they couldn't get out," Brenda said.

The overflow of displaced residents took its toll.

"The toilets got all stopped up, we couldn't use toilets inside. They brought in portable bathrooms and showers were in a semi-truck, but they went through far more than what I experienced."

Brenda was in charge of seven rows of 72 beds, and she was also attempting to provide empathy and comfort daily to over 500 people.

"Everything you went through during the day was there. The tears you shed for those people was there and the hurt in your heart."

She was a shoulder to cry on even as more bad news piled on for the victims. "Some of the apartment landlords were telling them they had five days to get stuff out, and they are six hours away."

A total of 74 Iowans have provided help for victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma.  Brenda is one of 23 who recently returned after more than two weeks away from her Moravia home.

"People don't realize how hard it is for these people and how much help they need," she said.

It's help that is now stretched thin after Hurricane Irma barreled into Florida.  Brenda said, "I feel guilty leaving and coming back because they still need help."

The Iowa Red Cross says 75 more people attended volunteer information sessions across the state last week.  Because of the increased interest, two more sessions have been added on Thursday, September 14th at 6 p.m. in Sioux City and Dubuque.  Another session will be held on Tuesday, September 19th in Cedar Rapids.

24th Annual Day of Action Invades Metro

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  The weather outside was perfect on Tuesday afternoon, and thousands of volunteers around the metro made the most of it.

More than 4,500 volunteers rolled up their sleeves and got to work as part of United Way’s 24th annual Day of Action. Volunteers helped with a variety of activities, and were there to lend a hand with pretty much everything nonprofit groups in the area needed. 

“It is a huge impact to an organization like ours. We have a very limited staff and for us to get all these things done and all these families helped all in one day is truly amazing,” said Missy Reams of Bidwell Riverside.

Reams runs Bidwell Food Pantry, which saw its busiest month ever last month with 4,500 families served. Tuesday's extra help was welcomed, but for all of these nonprofits, the need is year-round, not just for one day. 

“While it’s great to rally around these projects and get a lot of energy around it, the need is on-going. One of the things we lift up at each one of our projects is not only have you made a difference today, but here is how you can help going forward,” said Shirley Burgess, volunteer coordinator of United Way of Central Iowa.

Burgess estimates about 25% of Tuesday's volunteers will sign up for other events during the year. So not only are they impacting 40 non-profits on Tuesday afternoon, but they are also helping a lot of families year-round.

“Simple answer is we get a lot of hugs, yeah. So, lots of gratitude there that makes us feel pretty good that’s worthwhile,” said Larry Anderson of FreeStore in Des Moines.

Burgess says the value of the labor donated on Tuesday is more than $225,000. 

Iowans Head to Texas for Hurricane Harvey Relief

DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Hurricane Harvey, which has strengthened to a category four storm, will make landfall on Friday, and a group of Iowans will be there ready to help with recovery when the storm hits.

Heavy winds and rain rock parts of south Texas as the hurricane moves closer and people living on the coast decide whether they want to leave the area. At the same time, Greater Iowa American Red Cross volunteers are preparing to head down and lend a hand.

“We’re sending down from Dubuque, from Waterloo, we're sending these teams down of two people each in these emergency response vehicles full of these supplies," said Mark Tauscheck of the Red Cross.

Seven volunteers, including longtime volunteer Joe Vich, are heading to one of 17 shelters throughout south Texas.

“It really feels good to be a part of this. Iowa people give back generously, I mean we really do come from a state that's generous and hardworking," Vich said.

Stocking one of the American Red Cross' emergency response trucks costs $2,500 a day, but Iowa volunteers say this is a small price to pay to help people in need.