By Michelle Palansky

At first glance, it’s hard to understand what Pat Alphonse Cox does for the Canadian Red Cross.

Volunteering at the Winnipeg reception centre for wildfire evacuees, Pat chats for a few minutes with a large, boisterous family from Pauingassi First Nation; corrals a small, energetic child closer to her mom; and then sits quietly with a slouching teenager.

It all seems a little random, but on closer examination, Pat’s role becomes clear and her work crucial. Pat is a Safety and Wellbeing responder with the Canadian Red Cross.
 
Pat Alphonse Cox, pictured left, with Paula Green.

Pat is pictured on the left with fellow Canadian Red Cross volunteer Paula Green, right.


A volunteer for almost two years, Pat is a retired social worker who comes from a family of 14 siblings. Her professional skills as an empathetic listener and her familiarity with the controlled chaos of big-family life serve her well as a Safety and Wellbeing responder.

Like an emotional thermometer, Pat keeps her eyes and ears wide open as she gauges the emotional temperature of the room throughout her shift. She fluidly moves in and out of groups of evacuees, listening carefully to their concerns, watching for rising tempers and intervening with calm, good humour before a situation can escalate.

Pat’s job is to support the emotional wellbeing of the evacuees but as she describes it, her role is made easy by their resiliency and even-temperedness.

As she was handing out numbers to facilitate reception, one of the evacuees showed Pat her number, bragging about how close she was to the front of the line. As Pat congratulated her for her good fortune, the lady burst into gales of laughter, flipped the number over and revealed it to be an 81 – not an 18. With hours of waiting ahead of her, the evacuee not only found the humour but also made sure to share it.

A relatively new service offered by the Canadian Red Cross during emergencies, Safety and Wellbeing responders are proving their enormous value in helping people weather disasters with equanimity and strength.

The Canadian Red Cross has been providing support to people evacuated from several communities in Manitoba who were forced from their homes due to wildfires.