By Gordon Williams
Not every Red Cross volunteer ends up deployed to some far-off disaster scene.
The Red Cross is a complex organization with facilities to care for and stocks of supplies to count. Volunteers are needed to do all the caring for and the counting.
Frank and Sue Kent of Lakewood WA have gone on deployment to floods in Northern California and they have responded locally to countless fires as members of a Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT). But what they mostly do for the Red Cross are the day-to-day chores that keep the South Puget Sound Chapter up and running. They might paint an office one day, clean carpets the next and count inventories of supplies after that.
“Whatever needs to be done, we do.”Frank Kent, Volunteer
The chapter headquarters is in an aging building in Tacoma. As with any aging building, there is always something that needs upkeep or repair, “There is a white board in the building,” says Sue. “The staff lists all the jobs that need to be done on the white board. We come in every Tuesday and we do them.”
For Frank, there is satisfaction in doing chores that the Red Cross would otherwise have to pay for. Each task, he says, means money saved that can be put to better use. “They really appreciate what we do,” he says, “The people here are just great.”
The couple first came to the Red Cross five years ago. Both chose to retire from work at the same time – Sue from her job in the human resources department of a healthcare provider and Frank from his job selling industrial equipment. Both were looking for a worthwhile volunteer opportunity.
They became part of a Disaster Action Team – DAT’s being the Red Cross units that respond to disasters. “We went to a lot of home and apartment house fires,” says Sue. None were major events, but each involved Red Cross volunteers providing assistance to victims of a disaster.
Neither is native to the Pacific Northwest. They were living in Kansas City 25 years ago when Sue was offered a job interview in the Seattle area. She fell in love with the Northwest and suggested to Frank that they move to the area. Frank grew up in New Jersey and had long wanted to return to a seacoast. “He got his coast” says Sue. “But it was the West Coast and not the East Coast.”
Facilities maintenance is a regional Red Cross function, run out of the Seattle regional headquarters. While part of the Seattle chapter, they were often sent to Tacoma to do one task or another. Late in 2018, they moved from Seattle to the Tacoma area and keeping the South Sound chapter in tiptop shape became their primary Red Cross responsibility.
It is easy to see what volunteers like Sue and Frank do for the Red Cross. In carrying out its mission the Red Cross relies on a relatively small number of salaried employees and a vast number of volunteers. Without volunteers like the Kents, disaster victims would go unaided and first aid and safety lessons would go untaught.
As for what volunteers get for their efforts, Sue was looking for ways to give back to her community – and settled on the Red Cross as the best way to do it. She found her co-workers at the Red Cross to be caring and kind, “I call them people with good hearts,” she says.
“It expands your world to be working with people with good hearts.”Sue Kent, Volunteer