Cape Fear Area Chapter Volunteer Meets Inspiring Couple During Hurricane Irma Response Last Year


A year ago, even before Hurricane Irma made landfall, Florida’s Governor declared a state of emergency; activated the National Guard and ordered evacuations. Irma exacerbated a dire situation caused by the recent excessive rainfall in the south.

Community and Red Cross shelters were opened to provide safe, secure and dry places for residents. As with most disasters, residents and Red Cross volunteers worked together to help. One couple epitomized that sense of community – Fernando Suarez and his wife, Claudia Suarez.

Fernando and Claudia had no prior Red Cross experience, but they saw a need and wanted to help their community as Hurricane Irma arrived in Southwest Florida.

“We passed the Red Cross shelter in Estero [Florida] and saw the long lines waiting for safety and shelter and wanted to help,” Fernando said. “We saw the volunteers working frantically to check people into the Red Cross shelter. We called to find out how to help and became volunteers.”

Originally from Colombia, the couple had recently moved to Estero and started a business. Their home was not affected by the storm, so the couple volunteered in a shelter to help those who were affected. Fluent in English and their native Spanish, the couple was an asset to residents and staff. Fernando helped with the intake of new residents, as well as kept track of who came and went from the shelter. Claudia worked with case workers to make sure residents were partnered with other community organizations to meet their additional needs.

Because of their experiences serving as local event-based volunteers during Hurricane Irma, the couple planned to sign on as regular chapter volunteers. Fernando cheerfully commented, “I want to have a Red Cross vest!” They looked forward to additional training and serving on a consistent basis.

The Red Cross depends on compassionate volunteers like Fernando and Claudia to support the community in times of crisis. To learn how you can volunteer, visit

Story by Charlotte Rodriguez / American Red Cross



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