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What it’s like to help others through disaster: a volunteer’s story

From February 15 to March 9, Walmart Canada stores across Canada are raising funds to support the Canadian Red Cross' ability to respond to disasters. Visit a store near you to donate to help families in need whenever a disaster strikes.

By: James Morneau, Canadian Red Cross volunteer

Canadian Red Cross volunteer James MorneauVolunteers work tirelessly with the Canadian Red Cross to assist the most vulnerable in their communities. As one of those volunteers, I can tell you it is a rewarding experience, but also one that presents unique challenges.
I started volunteering with the Disaster Management program at the Red Cross in 2015. I prepared for my first disaster response running through scenarios in my head and going over what I learned hearing stories of past responses.
My first call had me quickly gathering my things and rushing out the door, all while trying to remember my training. I considered every detail, including how I would present myself when people were going through a personal emergency. I wanted to instill confidence and show empathy; should I enter with a serious face? Should I smile to put everyone at ease? Maybe that would be misinterpreted. I decided on something in between.

It was 6 a.m. Saturday morning when my team and I were called upon to help a family of four affected by a house fire. Firetrucks surrounded the scene and the family was clearly in distress. We were able to provide some comfort and help with their basic needs including a Walmart voucher for food and clothing and a hotel room to help them get through the next few days. The family was very thankful the Red Cross was there to help them.

Experience has shown me that each disaster relief effort I’ve helped with, both large and small scale, is unique. Every disaster management volunteer is nervous on their first few calls, but with training and fellow volunteers, Red Cross personnel work together and find quick solutions.

The work of the Red Cross is governed by seven fundamental principles –humanity, voluntary service, independence, neutrality, universality, unity and impartiality. Our work often requires thinking outside the box, but our decisions are always guided by the fundamental principles so we can’t go wrong. The scene may be chaotic, but we strive to be a calm and reassuring presence wherever our help is needed.

See more on how we help in emergencies and disasters in Canada.
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