By Amanda Baker
It was one of the largest regional home fires of the year. On a Tuesday afternoon in September, fire swept through a large complex in Delridge, Seattle – the Lam Bow Apartments. Residents of 19 units watched their homes and most of their possessions destroyed within a few hours. In total, 46 individuals were displaced. The Red Cross quickly opened a shelter at the Delridge Community Center and sent the call out for volunteers. As a new AmeriCorps volunteer, I was eager to help and signed up for an eight-hour shift.
In the days between the fire and my first shift there, I saw what went on behind the scenes to set up a shelter – from securing the facility to ensuring there would be enough volunteers to staff it. Upon my arrival, I beheld the outcome of all the hard work our Red Cross region had performed. The infrastructure for the displaced residents was up and clients were settled in. Now came the day-to-day challenges.
Early that morning we began discussing what would be served for lunch. One of the unique things about this shelter was the variety of dietary requirements, stemming from residents’ diverse cultural and religious beliefs. Finding meals that were healthy, satisfied vegetarians/vegans and those who consumed meat was a formidable challenge. My team decided on pasta as the main course for lunch.
I made a very special friend after he burst into the kitchen during that meal preparation. He was almost two years old, wearing red striped pants, with one of the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen. Cries filled with parental worry followed him as I redirected my giggling new friend out of the kitchen back into his mother’s arms. “Thank you,” his mother told me with a sigh of relief.
When lunch rolled around, my jubilant little friend had two servings of rotini with marinara sauce. Watching his family eat a hot meal, seeing their smiles and hearing the melodic sound of their discussion, reaffirmed my decision to spend ten and a half months serving at the American Red Cross through Washington Service Corps. Although the language was foreign to me, the emotions behind the words were explicit. After the worst day of their lives, the Red Cross was there for those displaced, and they were beginning to pick up the pieces.
Coincidentally, a few days later I stumbled across the Somali proverb, “One shares food, not words.” In that instant I thought of my little friend and his family. Of the 1,192 meals and snacks served at the Delridge Shelter, this one is ingrained in my memory. I am grateful for the opportunity I was given to be a part of their recovery.