Written by Donna Morrissey, Red Crosser deployed to Florida
On Saturday, September 16, my friend and fellow Red Cross volunteer, Cynthia Gutierrez-White and I made it to the Florida Keys and to the Southern Most Point with three emergency response vehicles (ERVs) that were bringing hot meals, hope and compassion.
Some of the neighborhoods we visited had been cut off since the storm, and as we arrived donning our Red Cross vests, people literally collapsed in our arms. We cradled babies, assisted elderly neighbors and offered a shoulder to cry on as some were overcome with emotion. Hope had finally arrived. For more than a week since Irma made landfall, these neighborhoods have been completely isolated. In one instance as we hugged two people, they told us that a body had been discovered in a canal behind their house. One thing Cynthia and I keep in mind– this is an incredibly traumatic event. In such circumstances, kindness, compassion and patience are more important than ever.
Along the Keys as we passed check points, we visited shelters that were literally being set up and opened as we arrived. One of the most glorious things we were able to provide to our neighbors here who had suffered so tremendously included air conditioning, wifi and a chance to connect to the outside world. I was able to text a picture of “Maui Dave” in Key West to his family in New Jersey to tell them he was alive, unharmed and just had a warm meal from the Red Cross on Duval Street. His family responded thanking God for this good news and for the support of the Red Cross.
In one neighborhood we had a very poignant moment. There were many Latinos who were suffering. Some had language barriers and others were quite frankly apprehensive and frightened to come out of their homes. In a moment’s notice, Cynthia hopped into the driver’s seat of the ERV, and in Spanish over the loud speaker, invited our neighbors to come out for hot food. The people came out in droves. One little boy in a wheel chair came out in his American flag themed outfit. While his clothes were tattered, showing signs of the trauma he and his family undoubtedly experienced from Irma, he sat up proudly. Together we would shoulder the days ahead.