From Hugo to Florence, Red Cross Volunteer Reflects 


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.  

20181005_Hurricane Florence_Volunteer_Louisa
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. 

ERV Yvette
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.

ERV class
 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 

Meals cooked from the heart give shelter residents a taste of home 

Cooking is Bertha Brewer’s talent and passion. And she put it to good use at the Smith Recreational Center in Fayetteville, N.C., when it served as a Red Cross shelter for people displaced by Hurricane Florence.

Caterer Bertha Brewer in the kitchen of Smith Recreation Center in Fayetteville, NC, which served as a Red Cross shelter. Brewer provided homestyle meals for shelter residents displaced by Hurricane Florence.   

Bertha considers herself lucky and was inspired by the resiliency of shelter residents, who numbered more than 150 at one point.

Bertha has her own catering business and a commercial kitchen at the rec center. While the shelter was operating there, she cooked meals for the residents about a couple of times a week.

“I just wished I could do something for all these people here every day,” she said. “But I did cook them dinner. I did cook them a dinner and they really appreciated that.”

One evening it was chili dogs, another time it was a chicken dinner — a choice of baked or fried — with green beans, macaroni and cheese and more.

“Just to get that little bit of home cooking was so wonderful,” said Nina Owens, a Red Cross volunteer from Alaska who managed the shelter kitchen. “It was a little something extra.”

Bertha downplays her efforts, noting that people always ask her how long it takes her to cook for a large group. “It doesn’t take any longer to cook for 50 people than to cook for 1,” she adds.

While Bertha has high standards for her cooking and enjoys seeing people eat her food, she isn’t much of an eater herself, running nearly all day on a bowl of oatmeal.

“I just enjoy doing what I do,” she said.

Story and photo by Ann Kim/American Red Cross

Red Cross volunteers’ quick-thinking saves life 

Red Cross volunteers’ quick-thinking saves life 

Red Cross volunteers are on the front lines, interacting with people affected by disasters. Often, they’re the first people that arrive to help, whether it be by giving food or emergency supplies, or simply being someone to talk to. 

Kenneth Drum

It’s the part of the job that Red Cross volunteer Kenneth Drum enjoys most. A native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, he’s been volunteering with the Red Cross for just over a year. 

“Communicating with people, finding out what their needs are and being a friend. If I can put a smile on their face for 15 seconds, it’s 15 seconds of misery that they’ve forgotten,” Kenneth said. 

Sometimes, those interactions can be the difference between life or death, as was the case with one North Carolinian. 

Volunteers Maria Gubnitsky (left), Shelley Kilgore, and Maria Huffman.

Kenneth is an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) driver with the Red Cross. He and his team had just arrived to deliver meals to people impacted by Hurricane Florence in North Carolina. 

After chatting with one community member, it quickly became clear that something wasn’t right. She seemed unwell so Kenneth, who is a former firefighter and EMT, decided to contact the Red Cross health responders to assist. 

Volunteers Maria Huffman, Shelley Kilgore and Maria Gubnitsky arrived within minutes to find that she was, indeed, very ill. However, she refused to be taken to the hospital until she was certain that all members of her community had been fed. 

The volunteers, concerned for her wellbeing, provided care to her until she agreed to be transported to hospital by ambulance. 

Doctors had indicated that, had it not been for the quick-thinking of the Red Cross team and their insistence on getting her to the hospital, it’s likely she would have died. “I don’t think any of us expected the outcome, but it was clear she was sick,” Huffman said. 

For Kenneth, it’s less about his quick thinking and more about the team working together. 

“It wasn’t me. It was our whole crew. Everybody was involved.”   

Story by Corinne Mercier/ Canadian Red Cross

Kids help kids affected by Hurricane Florence 

9-year-old girl collects coloring books 

Reagen Kelly, 9, organized a collection of coloring books and other items which she distributed to children affected by Hurricane Florence at the Multi-Agency Resource Center in Wilmington, NC, on Sept. 29, 2018.

What’s the best way to distribute nine boxes of coloring books and crayons to children affected by Hurricane Florence? That’s what Vickie Kelly, from Franklinton, N.C., asked local media after her daughter Reagen Kelly successfully collected craft materials from her friends. The answer she received: through the Red Cross.  

It only took a weekend for 9-year-old Reagen to make a plan after the hurricane hit North Carolina on Sept. 14. By that Monday night, before bed time, she informed her mother she wanted to help children affected by the storm. Her idea was to collect coloring books so that children, “would have something to do and not be bored,” Reagen said.   

Reagen made a call for donations through a video on Facebook and posters in her neighborhood. Within a week, she received contributions from 25 people, mostly from her friends and parents’ colleagues, who offered new coloring books, crayons, pencils and children’s books. Some even gave her money, which she used to buy more supplies. 

Reagen Kelly with mother Vickie Kelly at the Multi-Agency Resource
Center in Wilmington before the distribution.

On Sept. 29, the Kelly family made the three-hour drive to Wilmington – one of the hardest hit cities. There, they distributed nine boxes of children’s activities to the Multi-Agency Resource Center, where hundreds of people affected by the storm had come to receive attention by government agencies and community organizations. Reagen proudly put on a Red Cross vest and began attending to other children at her table in the children’s corner set by Red Cross partners from Smart Start of Hanover County.  

“Reagen always wants to do something for others,” said her dad, Jerry. “In school, if she sees someone getting bullied, she will help.” Grandmother Joyce agreed: “She is a very special child. A very thoughtful, caring child, and I am thankful to be her grandmother.”  

The girls and boys who approached the table to pick a book or spend some time coloring their favorite animated movie character were delighted. Lula, who was creating musical instruments from a piece of turquoise modeling clay, recounted how her chicken had to spend the night outside during the hurricane and, luckily, all survived.  

So how did Reagen feel as Red Crosser for the day? “I feel good, she said, because I have been wanting to do this for a long time and I got to do it today and make people smile.”    

Bentley’s Blessings: 

Bentley Padilla with her donations in Fayetteville, N.C.

Bentley Padilla, an 8-year-old from Lilly, Pennsylvania, raised more than $2,000 in her community following Hurricane Florence.   

Feeling compelled to help those in need, she used the funds to purchase bottled water and relief supplies. She then assembled 200 personal hygiene kits for men, women and children. Bentley and her family also created T-shirts that read “Bentley’s Blessings – Disaster Relief 2018.”  

Bentley Padilla’s donation kits for families with children.

With her kits in hand and the will to donate, her father hitched a small trailer to their family vehicle, and Bentley, her siblings and her parents loaded up in the car to make the drive from Pennsylvania to, Fayetteville, N.C., to distribute the relief items to those affected by the storm.  

Story by Elena Sartorius and Cari Dighton/American Red Cross 

Volunteer encourages youth to give back 

Elizabeth Baker had only joined AmeriCorps four months before she was called out to her first disaster response, working side-by-side with the American Red Cross. 

20181005_Hurricane Florence_Volunteer_Elizabeth Baker

Elizabeth and her team, all members of AmeriCorps, were working on a Habitat for Humanity project in Winston-Salem, North Carolina when they got the notice to evacuate due to incoming Hurricane Florence. 

“We got the evacuation notice a few days before the storm hit,” Elizabeth said. “We evacuated to Sevierville, Tennessee and stayed there for four days.” That’s where Elizabeth and her team were called to come to South Carolina to assist with Red Cross’ disaster response efforts in Columbia, South Carolina. 

Since then, she and her team have helped the Red Cross with sheltering (cleaning and packing 800 cots), warehouse support for the distribution of emergency supplies and, most recently, with damage assessments in North Carolina. 

While her time with the Red Cross has been meaningful, Elizabeth said she will most remember the families who went out of their way to access cleaning supplies being distributed by volunteers. The Red Cross packed a truck full of supplies to help those who were returning to their communities after Hurricane Florence, only to find their homes in need of cleaning and repairs. 

“We couldn’t fix their home, but we could give them some tools, and I think that was the most impactful – how thankful they were for tools to do that work,” she said. 

Elizabeth, a native of Wisconsin, hopes to enroll in medical school soon and plans to continue giving back to her community as much as possible. She encourages other young people to get involved, too. 

“You see the impact of natural disasters and other needs in your community on the news but getting out there and doing something about it is as much power as young people can have.” 

Story by Corinne Mercier/Canadian Red Cross

Recovering from Hurricane Florence, One Step at a Time

DSC_2034 (2)On a sunny October afternoon in Fayetteville, N.C., Sonja Graham sat patiently on a metal folding chair in the lobby of the Smith Recreation Center, her belongings neatly placed in bags next to her.

“I’m waiting for a car to take me and my son to a hotel,” she said with a smile.

The center has served as an American Red Cross shelter for Graham and more than one hundred others from across the region in need of a safe place to stay after Hurricane Florence left them homeless.

“The Red Cross has been trying to help everyone,” said Graham. “Food, hot showers, clothing. And we haven’t had to buy things like deodorant and shampoo.”

DSC_2196 (2)It has been a trying couple of weeks for Graham and her family. She evacuated her Saint Pauls, N.C. home of six years about 20 minutes from the shelter a day before Hurricane Florence blew off her roof. The Smith Recreation Center was the third shelter the family has stayed in.

“My house flooded during [Hurricane] Matthew two years ago but it didn’t tear it apart like this,” said Graham holding back tears. “It’s a total loss.”

Nearly three weeks after Florence began its slow, devastating path across the Carolinas, families find themselves at very different stages of recovery: some have returned home, some are still in shelters, and some like Graham are moving on to transitional housing like hotels.

No matter what the phase, the Red Cross is there, playing a critical role in helping families and communities recover. As part of their organization’s ongoing Hurricane Florence response, trained Red Cross caseworkers are connecting one-on-one with people like Sonja to help them navigate what can often be a confusing, complicated and time-consuming world of disaster recovery. Red Cross caseworkers are helping people create recovery plans, complete paperwork and find help from other agencies.

DSC_2221 (2)“I’ve been a wreck at times, sad. And Red Cross mental-health folks were there for me,” said Graham who struggles with depression. “Made me feel better to have someone to talk to.”

Over the past couple days, Graham and her family also met with Red Cross caseworkers for help planning next steps, including referrals to community partners and some financial assistance.

“It feels so great to know that someone cares, because they don’t have to.” Graham added, “They’ve made me feel hopeful.”

You can help people affected by Hurricane Florence like Sonja by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting the word FLORENCE to 90999 to make a $10 donation. 

Story by Michael Devulpillieres/American Red Cross

Law student gives back

09-27-18-photo 1-law studentThird year law student Thomas Walker was looking for a chance to give back. He answered an email request sent out by the president of the student body for event-based volunteers to help with the Red Cross relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Florence. It was an easy process to get plugged in.   

Walker spends six hours per week calling County Commissioners to see if there are unmet needs in their areas and determine how the Red Cross can help. Specific needs in affected counties can include the need for more food, water or cleaning kits. The process is to collect and record information and connect commissioners with the proper resources.  

Walker enjoys the flexibility the Red Cross offers. He divides his volunteer hours over a few days per week and pulls up a chair wherever there’s a phone. “I had no idea about the size and scope of the Red Cross operation”, Walker said. He loosely knew the Red Cross handles disasters but didn’t know how large their response operation is. “It’s rewarding to connect people with solutions”, said Walker.

Event-based volunteers like Walker are very important to Red Cross work following a disaster. In a recent poll of 178 event-based volunteers they rated their satisfaction level at 4.3 on a scale of 1 to 5. If you are interested in volunteering for the American Red Cross please visit or visit your local chapter office 

Story by Beth Bernhardt/American Red Cross