This originally appeared on the Red Cross Kentucky Region Blog. Photos by Kristen Perdue.
From the outside, an embrace is always seen, but the true emotion can be difficult to feel. Inside the American Red Cross shelter at the First Christian Church in Clark County, Indiana, one could not only see the embrace, they could see an authentic sense of overwhelming gratitude.
Mio and Aeris came to the Red Cross shelter while hope was running on empty. They were unable to stay in their home. Aeris was pregnant. The floodwaters quickly overwhelmed their hope and their sense of security. They were able to make it to the Red Cross shelter where they were able to have some of that hope and security restored.
“Everyone’s been so nice and friendly,” Aeris said while holding hands with her partner, Mio.
The couple had been dating for some time, fell in love and knew they wanted to make their commitment to each other official. They had been talking about their wedding for a while. They were ready to be a family.
Then, life provided the couple a collection of favorable circumstances: they were at a church and their former teacher had agreed to pay the fee for their marriage license. The couple said, ‘Why not?’ and started the process.
It didn’t matter that they were in a shelter. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know anyone. To Aeris, the only thing that did was her love for Mio.
“We knew this was a church, so we talked to the pastor Saturday, and she said she could schedule it for [the next day],” said Aeris.
Red Cross volunteers heard about the news and jumped into action. One bought a dress for the bride. Others bought wedding decorations and put money together for a wedding gift card. A church parishioner baked a cake and brewed a batch of punch.
Then, on Sunday, under a cross of a different meaning, Aeris and Mio were married, in front of a group of their newest friends: Red Cross volunteers and church members.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” said Mio with a remaining smile. “I was nervous because everyone was watching me, but I was real happy.”
Afterwards, there was a reception. The wedding decorations hung on the walls, next to the Red Cross shelter signs. It didn’t matter. The couple had their new friends and a newfound sense of official commitment.
But, the wedding was only the first way Red Cross volunteers helped the couple on their new journey.
Sitting on brick steps under the winter warmth of the Indiana sun, a volunteer booked bus tickets for the couple. They were able to use additional funds from the Red Cross to help them start a new life together.
The Salvation Army pulled up to take the couple to the bus station. Then came the embrace.
Even if one didn’t know this couple or know their story, they could feel the sincerity. They could witness the truest, realest meaning of thankfulness.
The couple had not only been shelter residents. To the volunteers, the couple became their family. To the newly minted Perez-Gambles, the volunteers became the same.
“I was surprised, to be honest, I didn’t know all of this was going to be happening,” Mio said just before the couple said their new last name, together for the first time.
“Perez Gamble,” they said in gleeful unison.
The couple is now on their way to a new beginning, while the Red Cross continues to provide hope, comfort and care to those impacted by the floods in Kentucky and Southern Indiana.