By Rebecca Boehm
It was unlike anything she expected, it wasn’t easy and it was an opportunity she’ll never forget.
Last October, heavy flooding devastated much of South Carolina. Red Cross volunteers deployed from all over the country, including one of our Northwest Region volunteers who experienced deployment for the first time.
Candace Cooper, a registered nurse, was assigned to serve with a Health Services outreach team. Although it was unlike anything she’d experienced before, she said, “The first thing I learned about myself was that I could do this. Also I felt proud to be a part of an organization that can offer assistance and comfort during a disaster.”
Each morning Cooper and her team received directions from headquarters to serve existing shelters, rural communities or individuals.
Coordinating service to rural communities proved to be complicated; flood waters were so high the team encountered many detours. “We would be following our GPS and suddenly come to a barricaded road,” said Cooper. When they arrived at a community, they were met with an even stranger sight: flood victims often moved their damaged furniture to their front yards.
The team provided help to residents who had suffered varying degrees of damage resulting from the flood. “Even if a home was not destroyed, we were able to provide assistance to the family if medications were destroyed, and we gave referrals for health care.” The health team visited affected neighborhoods distributing hot meals, water and cleaning supplies.
As important as it is to get important relief items to those affected by disasters, connecting with people and empathizing with them is just as important. While giving out supplies, Cooper would identify herself as a Red Cross nurse and ask about their flood damage and needs.
“Our outreach team connects with people impacted by the flood. I always tried to talk to as many people as possible, offering empathy for their plight and helping where I could,” she said.
The other aspect of Cooper’s deployment experience was aiding the volunteers working in the shelters. “We also want to think about the volunteers who go to serve those needing support, especially when they work tirelessly around the clock. It’s nice to have other volunteers checking on you and seeing that everything is okay,” said Cooper.
In deploying to South Carolina, Cooper joins the large family of Red Cross volunteers who respond to disasters across the country. We are one big team. Overall, she said, “My experience was an eye opener. I got to see how the Red Cross works in large disasters and the challenges to getting to the people who need help, and the logistics in a disaster setting.”