My first client at the Red Cross suffered a home fire yesterday. In truth, she is lucky to be alive. The wiring in her ceiling fan shorted and ignited a fire that would have consumed her had she fallen asleep in her bed last night. Fortunately, she dozed off watching television downstairs as the fire smoldered upstairs. She woke up to the sound of a neighbor banging on her door. By that time, the windows upstairs were popping. Eventually, each covered in soot and smoke shattered into the front lawn. The fire department arrived quickly and flooded the uninsured home. What smoke and flames didn’t destroy, water did.
When I met her, she was in her niece’s living room. The home was clean, tidy and well-occupied. There wasn’t room for the 56-year old aunt to stay, but it was a haven for the afternoon. Clearly, the distraught women needed some help. She had left her home hours earlier with the clothes on her back, flip flops on her feet and a purse on her arm – nothing else. A cardiac patient, she had to retire a year ago. On social security disability, she didn’t have means to pay for a hotel, buy clothes or even a meal out. What would have happened to her if the Red Cross had not come? Would she have slept on the floor of her niece’s home? The grandson, who sleeps on the couch, likely would have given his space to her. The large family probably would have stretched their meals to include one more, but would that have meant everyone would be hungry? None of the scenarios we imagined could work for very long. Each would have put an incredible strain on a carefully, but precariously, constructed family life.
When DJ, the experienced Red Cross volunteer, explained what help the organization would provide, relief swept through the room. The Red Cross responds to three fires a day in the St. Louis Region. When needed, volunteer provide immediate access to food, clothing and shelter. We did that last night for my first Red Cross client. The Red Cross here does that for someone—some family — every single day.