By Jenny Farley
Brenda Caple knew exactly what she was planning to cook for dinner. A steak she and her husband could enjoy together. But she lacked an onion and green pepper so she went out. She made it back safely to her apartment at Lindley Towers and was thinking about that steak when she said, “I heard a loud BOOM!”
When she looked out the window, destruction shocked her. She thought, “Lord, I just left from there. I had just walked past coming from the store.”
After living at her apartment complex for ten months, Caple was forced to evacuate, along with her sister and niece, who lived on different floors. Pieces of the Lindley Towers facade, an apartment building with 105 units, had crashed to the ground below.
Navy veteran John D. Smith, who has lived at Lindley Towers since 2015, left his seventh floor apartment that morning at 7:30 am. At 82 years old, he spent the day at the Senior Center when someone said, “I heard a building fell down on your block.” Smith said, “It never dawned on me it was my building.”
When he got home that night he said the fire department had kicked down his door during the evacuation and he had only minutes to collect his stuff while authorities waited in the hall.
“I couldn’t think of what to take.”
When something caused part of Lindley Towers to fall, Gail Thomas didn’t hear a thing. For nearly ten years she has enjoyed the quiet in her fourth floor apartment. She had no intention of leaving. “Then I heard people banging on doors.”
That morning Thomas was getting ready to do her online classes but they would have to wait. “I’m frustrated, aggravated, upset and angry.” Thomas suffers from excruciating daily migraine pain. She said being forced out of her home is the worst thing that has ever happened to her.
They lived on different floors. They all had other plans. But what happened at Lindley Towers on September 14th thrust all three people, and dozens like them, into the same river of uncertainty. Unable to go home, no time to grab much and in need of immediate refuge.
That’s when the Red Cross stepped in, partnering with the Office of Emergency Management, to open a shelter in the gym at Samuel Fels High School in Philadelphia.
Volunteers like Rick Tashman and Betty Thomas worked together there to make sure tower residents got what they needed. Food, blankets, a cot and emotional support.
Thomas has been training for the Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT). She said she enjoys volunteering and “Being part of society. Helping people.” And it’s not her first stint with the Red Cross. She used to deliver plasma long distances to hospitals and cancer centers.
Her two young daughters, Kayla and Eve, want to volunteer too as soon as they are old enough. They already help by making sandwiches to feed people who are homeless.
For 25 years, Tashman dreamed of volunteering for the Red Cross, but he had a lot of time commitments. Now, he serves as a shelter supervisor in the very school he attended as a child.
An amateur ham radio operator, Tashman calls himself an “electronics nut” who has a personal philosophy to “look for the opportunity to do something magical” and said he feels blessed to be able to “make a little bit of difference.”
For Caple, it’s not little. She said the Red Cross has given her a good experience at the shelter and treated her well.
“Very nice. Generous people. Everyone is respectful.”
She said she’s okay for now. And she’s praying for a good outcome.
“At least I have a roof over my head.”
Smith is also grateful.
“They helped an awful lot because I would have been homeless. If it hadn’t been for the Red Cross, I would have been on the street.”
Gail Thomas also appreciated the treatment she received at the shelter. “Got socks, food.” Volunteers even turned the music down to help her head.
Every eight minutes, The Red Cross responds to a disaster and is ready to leap into action 24/7. Shelters must be able to open within hours. If you would like to donate, visit redcross.org.