It was early (for a Saturday at least) when I got the call from Dave asking me to come to the shelter. He had been there all night and had fatherly duties he needed to fulfill. I was a little nervous as I had never been to an active shelter response and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As I got ready I scrolled through the Twitter feed that Dave had updated throughout the night. I had no idea the fire had affected so many people and it was just up the road from where I lived! Dave came out to meet me when I arrived at the shelter and updated me on the situation. Several of the displaced residents had found friends or family but around 20 remained. My job was to serve as the contact person if reporters wanted to interview a volunteer or client covering the Wyncote fire. I was also responsible for getting any new updates out to the public.
I ended up doing so much more than that.
Since it was my first time and I was hobbling around on crutches due to a fractured foot (from a sports injury) I wasn’t sure I would be able to help very much but I soon discovered that the Red Cross provides so much more than basic necessities. It provides human comfort and compassion in the face of disaster.
While I waited to hear back from a reporter I started to talk with another volunteer, Greg. We got on the subject of basketball, which as a Dallas Mavericks fan I was happy to commiserate with an equally disappointed Sixers fan. As we chatted, one of the residents joined in the conversation. We talked about our favorite players and moved on to football and he told us about his favorite teams and players. Our conversation turned to our families and he told us about his new granddaughter. Then he stopped and said that he wished he could show us pictures but they were all on the new smart phone his son had given him which he lost in the fire.
I reminded him that the great thing about living in this day and age is that cherished photos on cell phones are digital and can be retrieved. He agreed and told us that talking with us had allowed him, briefly, to forget about everything he had lost. He told us that the fire had started from his apartment and you could see the pain in his face as he relived the events of the night before.
I quickly changed the subject and Greg and the resident told me about their favorite Philadelphia stores growing up.
It was during that conversation I realized that what volunteers provide, more than a warm meal or a cot and blanket is compassion. Losses in a fire can be devastating and the Red Cross provides support. We reach out to someone who is suffering and ease their worries, remind them of what they still have and help them keep going. The ability to reach out to someone who is suffering and maybe for a time, ease their worries and remind them of all the things they have not lost and to keep going.