Days after historic flooding slammed the Northeast leaving several towns in Vermont inaccessible, the roads in the city of Barre began to flood as the Winooski River and its tributaries exceeded their banks. Downtown, five American Red Cross biomedical collections team members who traveled from Northwestern Vermont (Julia Bowen, Lynda Brooks, Julieanne Curtis, Camilla Lettere and Leydy Waugh) were working a blood drive with their supervisor Ryan Burtin at Barre Elks Lodge #1535 when they were alerted a nearby street had a foot of standing water.
While Ryan had to leave the blood drive to help his wife and animals evacuate their home nearby, Lynda and Julieanne quickly stepped in to co-supervise the blood drive while keeping an eye on the weather. As water continued to rise, Lynda made the decision to stop the blood drive and work to ensure they safely processed and loaded the blood products collected before evacuating the premises.
Protecting Life and Health
“As the team was cleaning and I was processing donations, the driveway where we were to load the truck was clear,” said Lynda Brooks, a Red Cross biomedical collections specialist whose been with the organization 15 years. “As we were beginning to load the blood products, the inside of the building began to flood with about five inches of rushing water.”
The team was able to safely load the packaged blood products and evacuate the building. However, their initial plans to leave town and travel back home were quickly derailed when they realized all the roads were flooded.
“The water was knee deep.” Said Lynda. “There were no roads to go in or out of town, so we were stuck there.”
Fortunately, the five team members were able to get to a nearby Red Cross shelter set up at Barre Auditorium. Almost as soon as they arrived and introduced themselves to the shelter volunteers, they began to see ways they could help assist some of the 200 shelter residents.
“We just all stepped in for the people who needed it,” said Lynda. “My team helped set up cots, I helped work the sign-in table and Julia, who has EMT experience, helped to look after people with injuries and also helped a resident who was sick get treatment by calling paramedics. We were also able to share snacks, water, and juice we had left over from the blood drive, and I was able to share a pair of my socks with a resident whose foot was in a cast and was cold.”
Turning Compassion into Action
While none of the five biomedical team members had ever volunteered at a Red Cross shelter before, it appears their natural instincts, experience taking care of others, and setting up blood drives in 45 minutes –- sometimes in unfamiliar spaces, may have all helped them to thrive. However, their genuine care for others was made more apparent when the biomedical team learned it was the birthday of one of their six-year-old shelter residents and went on a mission to find her a piece of cake.
“A shelter is not where you want to be on your birthday,” said Lynda. “When we surprised the little girl with the cake and wished her a happy birthday, her eyes got big like she couldn’t believe it . . . I had tears in my eyes.”
After the team’s first-time shelter volunteer experience, Lynda says she enjoyed working alongside her teammates who are so caring and giving and she would definitely do it again.
“It’s very hard to see people suffering, no matter how small,” said Lynda. “You just want to give them everything and you know that you can’t really. But the appreciation of the people thanking us for being there means so much especially when you know they’ve been through so much. . . you just want to ease their pain by giving them a hug or helping in any way possible.”
In addition to supporting the needs of Red Cross shelter residents, the biomedical collections team was able to successfully support the needs of hospital patients by ensuring the 44 units collected at the Elks Lodge blood drive were safely picked up by a courier the next day for testing and processing.
“Our two days would have not been a success if it were not for the teamwork we had,” said Lynda. “I couldn’t have done it without them. . . we all needed each other.”
YOU CAN HELP people affected by disasters like flooding and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767), or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
PLEASE GIVE BLOOD The ongoing flooding could make it difficult for donors to travel to scheduled Red Cross blood drives and donation centers. We urge eligible individuals in unaffected areas to give blood or platelets to ensure a sufficient blood supply for patients. Schedule an appointment today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
BECOME A VOLUNTEER Red Cross can help put local residents who want to support their community to work after a disaster. When needed, community volunteers can expand the reach of trained Red Crossers by helping to distribute relief supplies or performing other tasks, depending on where the need is greatest. To get involved, go to redcross.org/volunteertoday and sign up today