What do I need to know as Red Cross volunteer?
October 22, 2005 4:59 PM   Subscribe

I've just been asked to deploy to New Orleans as a Red Cross volunteer (mi).

I volunteered at my local chapter about a week after Katrina, now I've received a message asking me to go, but I haven't finalized the plans yet. If I do go, more than likely I'll leave tomorrow.

Questions - Have any mefites done this already or volunteered with the Red Cross recently and can pass along some advice? What should I bring (RC covers expenses for anything you need locally)? Anything a white kid from Oregon should do/not do to 'fit in' with people in Louisiana? I've never been anywhere in the South so any all advice is appreciated. Thanks.
posted by efalk to Travel & Transportation around New Orleans, LA (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
hoo boy... I'd suggest forgetting all about being a white kid. That line of thinking is prohibitive to the cause. You are most likely in for a culture shock; Keep an open mind, your wits about you and treat everyone with the same respect you'd expect from them.
posted by AllesKlar at 5:06 PM on October 22, 2005

I'm a transplanted New Yorker to South Carolina... they're hardcore southern down here...

I think AllesKlar has it mostly right... just be nice and they'll be nice back. In addition, you're dealing with people following a tragedy. At some point, they're not going to care who you are or where you are from... they'll just want help.

There was a story on NPR a few weeks ago about how indoctrinated the south is to some people's identities in N.O. Basically, some people there are starting to say, "It's okay if people from off offer suggestions. Just be aware that we don't have to accept them."
posted by ajpresto at 5:14 PM on October 22, 2005

my 23 year old daughter is there right now with the red cross [wisconsin] driving an erv [emergency vehicle] around the 9th ward. she's doing fine. she met lots of good people--including other rc volunteers from all over

it is stressful, for sure. as of a couple days ago some of the erv crews were still picking up bodies.

one occupational hazard she mentioned is smoking. all the emergency vehicle drivers smoke. after the stresses of the day who can blame them? i just hope she doesnt start smoking again

there is still a curfew--i think her shift ends at 5pm then it's back to the rec center near the airport by 6pm.

volunteers work with people who need various kinds of assistance. she has had two different assignments since going down there in her one 3-week shift, and she'll do another shift i believe, after a week off.

some rc people experience shock when they get there from the unusual stress, but other voluteers help them out. its a very supportive atmosphere

most volunteers are not young people, and my daughter found lots of surrogate moms, dads, uncles and even grandparents

wish i could tell you more. there is no email, so i only occasionally talk to her by phone and this is pretty much all i know--

i wish you luck, and thank you for your service
posted by subatomiczoo at 5:26 PM on October 22, 2005

Coldchef is one of the MeFi'ers you want to talk to. If I remember correctly he lives in Baton Rouge (60 or so miles from NOLA) and was involve in some of the relief efforts. I'm from NOLA. It's a different culture. I suffered from culture shock moving from there, as a teenager, to Memphis. The culture is Southern but, at the same time, not like any other Southern city. You'll be fine dealing with the people, just be polite. If there is any issue it will have more to do with the stress they are under rather than the fact you are from Oregon (although you folks can be a little strange).

I sincerly admire what you're doing.
posted by Carbolic at 5:49 PM on October 22, 2005

I was the guy who went to New Orleans. I also volunteered at a Red Cross shelter in Lafayette, making it up to shift manager. I'll tell you what I looked for in Red Cross volunteers: people who I could rely on to perform the task they were asked to do. There were plenty of bright young people who could walk around and put out fires as they came to them; that's valuable, but I found it was more valuable to construct programs that could meet massive needs. That takes a team effort.

For instance, we built a team we ended up calling the Transitions Team. As the population of the shelter shrank, it became clear we were getting down to the hard core of people who had no other options; no relatives, no job, no plans, etc.
The Transition Team's job was to find out what was holding a person or family up from moving on, and try to solve the problem. If the problem could be solved on the spot, great. If it showed up as part of a larger trend, we would try to institute some program to solve it.

For example, some were not eligible for the relocation services offered by a church group because one member had a record. Some were unable to return to N.O. because their home was a rental. Some had been section 8 renters in New Orleans, and section 8 housing here is full. So we worked on finding other housing resources. Before I left, I was trying to get local mechanics to come check out shelter residents' cars, so they wouldn't break down a couple of miles down the road and put them back in the hole they just crawled out of.

I asked my guys to be like cops on a beat, and get to know everybody in their particular area of the shelter. Find out what their situation was. Some were waiting on aid checks, or on trailers, or jobs.

Don't worry about how to talk to black people. It's easy. One thing: I tried to make myself appear as humble as I possibly could. I'd approach the mom in the family, drop to one knee, introduce myself and start asking questions. It works better than you could possibly imagine.

Your situation may be completely different, but if there's any advice I can give you, let me know.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:16 PM on October 22, 2005

One more thing: I noticed the RC volunteers were not very good at monitoring and dealing with their own stress. This is very important. When people become too stressed, they begin to make bad decisions, which leads to more stress. Potentially for everybody.
Then, when the stress gets too high, there's a breakdown. This removes an otherwise effective member of the group for a day or more; much more, if the breakdown is accompanied by bad enough decisions.

I would review symptoms of stress before you go, and be vigilant in looking for signs of them in others and yourself. Plan to manage stress by taking time off. Getting away from the shelter or other scene for even a couple of hours can make a huge difference.

I cannot overemphasize how important this is.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:23 PM on October 22, 2005

waldo's the other MeFite going down there soon. He'd likely have some info - he's doing a 3-week stint, I believe.
posted by fionab at 7:48 PM on October 22, 2005

Response by poster: As an update, thank you for all the replies, it turns out that the info i recieved was a mistake on the Red Cross' part. Although I'm still on call for going in the future. Thanks again.
posted by efalk at 5:53 PM on October 23, 2005

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