Hurricane survivor stays strong, looks to help others as Red Cross volunteer

Matilda Shanks has survived personal tragedies and two deadly hurricanes, but through it all, she has found strength in focusing on others in need.

Now, she wants to channel that passion for helping others as a volunteer for the Red Cross. After all, she says, during trying times, the Red Cross has been there for her.

Matilda Shanks

Matilda Shanks

After Hurricane Florence made landfall at Wrightsville Beach on Sept. 14, eastern North Carolina was inundated with record flooding. Shanks, 45, of Chadbourn, N.C., in Cumberland County, went to Edgewood Elementary School, a Red Cross shelter nearby in Whitesville, when floodwaters rose around her home. But she put her time to good use helping other residents of the shelter.

“She stood out because she didn’t seem to let anything bother her,” said Betty Odiaka Baldwin, a Red Cross event-based volunteer who worked in the Edgewood Elementary shelter.

Shanks was there for other residents, listening and offering a shoulder to lean on.

“I smile and have a happy face every single day,” Shanks said. “Other people confide in me, talk to me.”

But she also threw herself into helping out at the shelter and did tasks that shelter volunteers did.

“She’s a very caring person,” Odiaka Baldwin said. “Really, you wouldn’t think she’s a resident in a shelter because she did so much.”

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Matilda Shanks’ home after Hurricane Florence.

Shanks and Odiaka Baldwin had met two years earlier, at a Red Cross shelter at the same school, during Hurricane Matthew. But they bonded during the weeks they shared after Florence.

Shanks opened up to Odiaka Baldwin about her past. In addition to living through Matthew, Shanks had survived the loss of two daughters years earlier.

The tragedy that struck before dawn on Feb. 1, 1996, remains vivid for Shanks.

“I was awakened about 4 a.m. to the sound of something banging,” Shanks said. “I thought someone was trying to get in.”

It was the sound of neighbors desperately pounding on the door of Shanks’ burning house. She and her daughters had moved in only three days earlier, and she didn’t realize the smoke alarms did not have batteries.

“I tried to get my children,” she said. “There was so much smoke. I was burned over 50 percent of my body.”

She was flown to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Health Care in Chapel Hill for treatment.

In addition to losing her daughters, who were 16 months and 4 years old, Shanks was suddenly homeless.

“I lost everything,” she said.

But the Red Cross was there for her, she said. Volunteers visited and made sure she had everything she needed.

“Red Cross was so awesome to me at that time,” she said. “I was so thankful and grateful. They blew my mind.”

Shanks also credits her faith for keeping her strong.

When Matthew struck in 2016, no one expected the hurricane to be so bad, and her neighborhood wasn’t evacuated. But as the severity of the storm became clear with the rise of floodwaters, Shanks and her daughter Jay’Brehon, now 18, moved upstairs to keep dry. Shanks made sure to take her portable radio, and she rode out the storm with praise music playing.

“God is going to be God. I trust him no matter what,” she said.

Flooding caused by Matthew devastated eastern North Carolina, and Shanks said it took five months for water damage to her home to be repaired before she could move back in.

But now she has been forced out again, this time by Florence. Shanks initially returned to the shelter at Edgewood, and is now in a hotel, unsure when repairs to her home will be complete.

For Shanks, whose creativity has led her to be a decorator, poet, musician and gift basket designer, the uncertainty has been trying.

“It took a toll on me,” she said.

But in the midst of difficulties, she has signed up as a Red Cross volunteer.

“I could never go through life forgetting the people who have been there for me,” Shanks said.

That includes Odiaka Baldwin, who regularly checks in on Shanks at the hotel.

“We just made a connection,” Odiaka Baldwin said. “I think it will be a lifetime connection.”

Story by Michael White/American Red Cross

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Three years after tornado takes home, couple joins Red Cross to help others

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Beverly and Reggie Riddick

For most, retirement usually conjures visions of travels, hobbies and uninhibited leisure. For Reggie and Beverly Riddick, retirement presents an opportunity to give back.  

In 2014, severe weather in North Carolina produced six tornados across the eastern portion of the state. One ripped the roof off of Reggie and Beverly’s mobile home in Elizabeth City, N.C. As the Riddicks surveyed the damage after the disaster, Red Cross volunteers met them in their suffering by offering water, temporary housing and connections to recovery resources.  

Additionally, the Red Cross covered the cost of two nights in a hotel so Reggie and Beverly could develop a plan for future housing. The couple said they were most impressed with the way Red Cross volunteers followed up in the days and weeks after the tornado.  

“That really left a warm spot in our hearts,” Reggie said.  

The experience with the destructive tornado produced lasting influences on the Riddicks. The couple said it strengthened their faith in God and it established a spirit of gratitude toward the Red Cross. 

About a year ago, the Red Cross re-entered the Riddicks’ lives. Reggie was reading the newspaper and saw information about a volunteer interest meeting.  

“Put it on your calendar, we definitely want to attend,” Reggie said to his wife of 17 years.  

When reflecting on that meeting, Beverly remembers feeling overwhelmed by the inviting attitudes of the volunteers. As a perfectionist, she appreciated that the volunteers emphasized mistakes are learning opportunities.  

Now, the retired educators channel their spiritual passion into service with the Red Cross’s disaster spiritual care team and disaster action team.  

“When we lost our home in that tornado, it was our spirituality that held everything together for us. It brought us closer together as a couple and it brought us closer to God,” Beverly said.  

The Red Cross aims to meet the short and long-term spiritual needs of those affected by disasters through providing accompaniment, compassionate care, individual and communal prayer, and appropriate ritual. Spiritual care team volunteers also connect clients to resources according to their individual beliefs.  

Professional or board-certified chaplains, disaster spiritual care providers with other voluntary organizations and endorsed leaders of local faith communities are eligible to submit applications to become spiritual care providers for the Red Cross. Reggie and Beverly are both ordained deacons at Riddick Grove Missionary Baptist Church (no name connection) in Belvidere, N.C.  

“We wanted to find a way to give back because we are very spiritual people and God wants us to serve others,” Reggie said. 

As spiritual care team leads, the Riddicks are working on compiling a list of local contacts who represent various religions to serve their diverse clientele. Reggie said he never wants differences of traditions to keep people from receiving the care they need especially in the aftermath of disasters.  

“I think it’s very important for people to know that God is still with them, whatever God they do serve,” Reggie said.  

When serving on their local disaster team, often responding to home fires, Reggie and Beverly comfort distraught residents by listening to their needs and offering encouraging sentiments. The Riddicks recognize that their experience with losing their home gives them the unique ability to empathize with clients. Reggie said people are much more attentive once they hear about their own history with disaster.  

In the past year, the Riddicks have responded to a handful of home fires, served as shelter feeding leads during Hurricane Florence, and attended virtual training seminars and in-person training workshops. They haven’t been volunteers long, but they have each already accrued more than 100 volunteer hours.  

“We just enjoy helping people, it’s a part of our nature,” Beverly said.  

The Northeastern North Carolina Chapter is grateful Reggie and Beverly have chosen to dedicate part of their retirement to giving back to the organization that helped them on their path to recovery.  

“We are thankful that the Lord has given us the commitment and desire to do it,” Reggie said.  

Story by Shelby Raymond/American Red Cross

Volunteer helps Florence relief effort even as floodwaters claim her home

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River Landing community in Wallace, N.C.

Daryl Steinbraker saw the floodwaters rising and knew she had to get to work.

She had stayed in her River Landing community in Wallace as Hurricane Florence approached North Carolina in September because she knew she would be needed in her role as Red Cross government liaison and disaster team coordinator.

What she didn’t expect was that the floodwaters would claim her own home. When she and her husband built in 2006, the year she began volunteering for the Red Cross, they raised the house a foot above where the floodwaters from Hurricane Floyd had reached in 1999. After Eastern North Carolina took a double punch from Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd, rivers rose to 500-year flood levels, according to federal data.

“We were assuming we’d never have a problem,” Steinbraker said.

 

When a mandatory evacuation order was issued for her area, she went to a friend’s. A couple of Coast Guard helicopters flew overhead, but she waved them off. But after the power went out and the waters kept rising, she knew she had to find a way out or risk being isolated.

A rescue boat was cruising by, with a Ski-Doo leading because the water was so high cars were underwater and difficult to see. The rescuers, a group from Marco Island, Florida, helped evacuate Steinbraker and her friend.

Steinbraker rescue boat

Daryl Steinbraker helped lead a rescue boat from Marco Island, Florida, to deliver supplies in flooded areas such as River Landing in Wallace, N.C.

When the rescuers asked what Steinbraker did, she was a bit chagrined to tell them she worked in disaster relief.

“I’m so embarrassed because I’m the Red Cross lead for Duplin County,” she told them. “I asked if I could help.”

It turned out that the rescuers needed help, too — they didn’t know the area, and addresses on homes were submerged and impossible to read. So Steinbraker served as their navigator.

They cruised through the River Landing neighborhood, an area with a large number of senior citizens, checking on residents and bringing food. At the time, some still were adamant that they wouldn’t leave.

“I’m not sure anyone was able to ride it out all the way,” Steinbraker said.

About 240 houses in the development were flooded out, said Charles Farrior, the mayor of Wallace who has known Steinbraker for years.

Steinbraker Farrior

Daryl Steinbraker, left, and Wallace Mayor Charles Farrior worked together to open the town’s Campbell Center as a shelter.

At the shelters in Wallace, she had the advantage of knowing the community.

“One hundred percent of our shelter staff was from anywhere else,” she said.

When a shelter opened at the city’s Campbell Center, she used her local connections to get a full-sized refrigerator donated. She also helped smooth relations between the shelter and other programs running at the center.

“She knew the history of the place and provided continuity,” Farrior said. “She was phenomenal.”

Steinbraker also worked with Duplin County officials to deliver about 2,000 MREs to a neighboring county. She was a consistent point of contact for shelter staff and government officials.

Plus, she said, the fact she had been forced out of her home gave her “street cred” with residents at the shelters.

“I understood exactly how everyone was feeling,” she said.

Her home was underwater for days.

“My house had 27 inches on the first floor and 5 feet in the garage,” she said. Although she and her husband recently have completed the muck-out, it remains unlivable.

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Daryl Steinbraker’s house in Wallace, N.C., was flooded for days, with water reaching at least 2 feet inside.

But Farrior says he never heard her mention her house even as she was working with the relief effort.

“She was all about helping folks in that shelter and folks in need,” he said.

That Steinbraker would use her time during the storm and after to take care of others comes as no surprise to James Jarvis, executive director of the Cape Fear Area Red Cross Chapter.

“Daryl has been such a great volunteer in Duplin — she always puts the needs of others first,” he said. “Even when she’s on an evacuation boat, she thinks of others.”

She remains humble about her effort.

“It was so much more of a gift to me, because your options are … you worry and you’re incredibly sad, or you get to go out and maybe do something that helps somebody else in it,” she said. “People think it’s selfless … but trust me, I got so much more out of it.”

Story by Michael White/American Red Cross

Photos courtesy of Daryl Steinbraker

From Hugo to Florence, Red Cross Volunteer Reflects 

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In September 1989, Alice Klundt deployed on her first national disaster response assignment with the American Red Cross — a record-setting major hurricane.  

The Montana native traveled to Puerto Rico to join relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo, a fierce storm that made landfall as a major hurricane in both the Caribbean and the United States. Just a few weeks later, Alice united with the Red Cross in San Francisco to respond to the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake which injured thousands and claimed the lives of more than 60. 

Nearly 30 years later, Alice reunited with her Red Cross family in Goldsboro, NC after Hurricane Florence produced catastrophic flooding across the Carolinas. During her Hurricane Florence deployment, Alice worked with a volunteer relations team, traveling across the affected region to ensure volunteers exemplified the core values of the Red Cross.  

While her responsibilities are focused on volunteers, she embodies the mission of the Red Cross to alleviate suffering in all of her interactions. When stopping for directions at a convenience store in North Carolina, Alice’s badge drew attention from a patron and a cashier who both suffered home damage as a result of Florence. Alice connected each with the Red Cross.  

“I was glad that we just happened to stop there for directions,” Alice said.  

Alice is no stranger to North Carolina. Two years ago, she deployed as a member of the disaster response team for Hurricane Matthew. The Goldsboro Parks and Recreation’s Herman Park Center was home to the Red Cross’s headquarters during Hurricane Mattew and it opened its doors for the Red Cross again during Florence. Upon arriving in Goldsboro this September, Alice felt like she was at a family reunion because she recognized Red Cross volunteers and parks and recreation employees.  

Before Alice started deploying to major disasters, she served as a Red Cross volunteer by responding to local home fires. It is from this time that she recalls one of her most precious memories. At the scene of a fire, a distraught homeowner came up to Alice and asked if she could hug her. Alice compassionately obliged and remembers the sooty handprints left on the white knit dress she happened to be wearing.  

At 74 years old, Alice does not see herself hanging up her Red Cross boots anytime soon.  

She adds, “I’m taking away more than I’m giving, it’s almost selfish.” 

PHOTO: Alice Klundt shares Red Cross memories during her disaster relief deployment to Goldsboro, N.C. Photo by Sharon Penn/American Red Cross.  

Story by Shelby Raymond/American Red Cross 

Silver lining in the cloud of Florence recovery 

JDenoia sitting

Musician Deon Kipping’s song, “I Don’t Look Like (What I’ve Been Through)” perfectly describes Jordan Denoia, a Wilmington, N.C. resident. 

Jordan’s positive energy and resilient personality outshine the struggles she has faced since surviving Hurricane Florence in September. The storm threw more than a few setbacks her way, including the loss of her home and her job as a nurse. Jordan found relief in a Red Cross shelter in Wilmington, N.C., and stayed focused on the fact her situation was only temporary.   

After the storm, “I was sad and felt fearful for other people,” Jordan said. “I thought about all the people not in stable buildings and just hearing how people were affected. We are a community, an amazing community!” 

Red Cross disaster client caseworkers, disaster health services team members and shelter staff worked one-on-one with shelter residents to create each a recovery plan.  

In early October, Jordan beamed as she strolled through the shelter. After nearly four weeks in the shelter, she had not only landed a new job at another long-term nursing facility, but she was in the process of securing an apartment – a silver lining in what had been a bleak story.  

Story by Lisa Morgan/American Red Cross

Hurricane victim turned volunteer now helps others recover 

Louisa Rodriguez has been volunteering with the Red Cross for many years. Over three decades, to be exact.  

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Louisa Rodriguez

Most recently, she’s been lending a hand in Puerto Rico for Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and in North Carolina, for Hurricane Florence. The work can be difficult but knowing that she’s making a difference is what keeps Louisa coming back to the Red Cross year after year. 

When you meet Louisa, it’s easy to understand why people open up to her. Her warm, welcoming personality combined with her ability to empathise puts people at ease. It’s this skill that allows her to reach out to people in their time of need, imparting information that is key to their recovery process. 

“People talk to me without knowing me and it’s just—they open up to me,” Louisa said. “And they tell me things and I say ‘okay, this is what you have to do.’”  

Louisa has been working with a Red Cross damage assessment team, checking in on people that may have sustained damage to their home due to Hurricane Florence. It wasn’t long ago that Louisa found herself in similar circumstances. She, too, was impacted by a hurricane. It gives her a unique perspective on what people might be going through. 

“I say I understand. I understand what you’re going through because I was also a victim of a hurricane, and I know how it feels. I can tell you that because I’ve been there too. And I know how difficult it is,” Louisa said. 

This volunteer will continue to come back as long as she can. The strength and resilience of people going through disasters is inspiring, and she said she’s honored to be a part of their recovery process. 

“I have given them hope. And that’s the most important thing. That you leave them with hope,” Louisa said. 

Story by Corinne Mercier/Canadian Red Cross

Road for new Red Cross driver began with shelter stay after Florence  

After a full day of intensive training, capped off with a road driving test, Patricia Ramos is on her way to becoming one of North Carolina’s newest Red Cross volunteer emergency response vehicle drivers. 

ERV Patricia

Patricia Ramos is on her way to being a new volunteer emergency response vehicle driver.

The Fayetteville State University student signed up for the driving bootcamp after spending time in a Red Cross shelter for people affected by Hurricane Florence. After that experience, Ramos knew she wanted to get involved with the organization. The work that teams on emergency response vehicles (ERVs) do was particularly appealing to her. 

For her, it’s about “being able to go to the people and to talk to them and see what’s going on,” she said. 

ERV teams go out to disaster-affected communities to deliver emergency supplies and serve meals. They may also deploy to other parts of the country to join large-scale disaster responses, as was the case for Hurricane Florence. 

Ramos was all smiles after completing various maneuvers with the ERV. To earn their certification, the students had to drive around cones, parallel park, reverse into positions as directed by their back-up buddy and demonstrate their proficiency on the road. That comes after learning about topics like food safety, equipment and maintenance procedures. 

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Yvette Patterson uses hand signals to direct the driver of the emergency response vehicle during a training session. Patterson, of Fayetteville, decided to become a Red Cross volunteer after Hurricane Florence. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to help folks in my community,” she said. 

Ramos first got to know the Red Cross up close after Hurricane Florence made landfall. Before Florence hit, she had taken her mother and sister further inland from their home in Ivanhoe in Sampson County, North Carolina. They stayed in Albemarle, about an hour outside of Charlotte, for about a week before they decided to return to their homes.  

In Robeson County, they encountered numerous flooded areas, but were unable to find any available hotel rooms. They kept searching until they realized it was too risky to continue further. The trio ended up at the Red Cross shelter at Lumberton High School in the evening.

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 Instructor James Buckley gives bootcamp students an orientation on the different components of a Red Cross emergency response vehicle. Three of the eight students that day were new volunteers with the Red Cross.

 

Now that Ramos is back at home in Fayetteville, she’s looking forward to getting more practice behind the wheel of the ERV. She’s also checking out other volunteer opportunities with the Red Cross, including helping at shelters and events, and even a possible internship in health services.  

She said it’s been interesting to learn about all the ways the Red Cross helps the community. “I think it’s an amazing organization,” she said. “It’s really out there to help.” 

Story and photos by Ann Kim/American Red Cross