Proud to put on the vest and answer the call to volunteer

For the week of April 15 to 21, we're celebrating National Volunteer Week by honouring some of the work of our incredible volunteers through their stories. At the Canadian Red Cross, we are so grateful for the contributions of thousands of volunteers who give their time and skills in helping others.

By Karen Saulnier, Canadian Red Cross emergency management volunteer, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Hello from Halifax! Thirteen years ago, I looked into volunteering somewhere where I could help people and make a difference in my community. I decided to check out a Canadian Red Cross volunteer orientation session and after reviewing the various positions, applied to become a member of the emergency response team.

Two months later the Indian Ocean tsunami on December 26, 2004 prompted a global humanitarian response including by the Red Cross. Here at home, I worked countless hours alongside fellow Red Cross volunteers collecting donations and issuing receipts. It was my first real glimpse of how the power of humanity in my own community could make a difference on a global scale.

Karen Saulnier, Canadian Red Cross emergency response volunteerOver the years, as a Red Cross volunteer, I’ve participated in training programs and exercises to build my skill set. I even discovered my natural talent of processing paperwork to a T and became affectionately known as the “Queen of Registration,” which still holds today! I’ve taken part in numerous humanitarian responses from house and apartment fires to a community evacuation, assisting clients with basic emergency needs.

The evening of December 23, 2009, I came close to losing everything when another unit in my condo building caught fire, forcing evacuation of all 10 units. Suddenly, fire personnel and fellow Red Cross volunteers were on my doorstep and I found myself being ushered onto a Halifax Transit bus wearing only pyjamas and a winter coat. I sat there consoling my neighbours as we watched our roof being doused with water. This major life event shocked me into the importance of home insurance, which thankfully I had, and of having a household emergency preparedness kit, which I didn’t have then but sure do now! It made me a more compassionate person, appreciating further the receiving side of humanitarian aid.

Another major Red Cross response I volunteered for was the Alberta Flood of 2013 working not from Alberta but from a Red Cross call centre in Halifax, where I and other volunteers remotely processed evacuee registrations. I was the lead at the call centre on opening day. That evening, almost 95 percent of the calls that came in were of evacuees searching for loved ones.

During the mass arrival of the Syrian refugees in 2015-16 and another call for Red Cross volunteers, I found myself at a warehouse in Halifax organizing donations of clothing, linens, kitchenware and toys.  The volume of donations was overwhelming but again I was proud to put on my Red Cross vest, roll up my sleeves and help.

In 2016, the Red Cross activated again in response to the Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation, the costliest disaster to date in Canadian history. Assisting evacuees with questions, registration and emergency aid was a momentous task I won’t soon forget.  Red Cross volunteers and staff across Canada worked tirelessly to complete registrations and provide support including in many cases direct cash transfers to bank accounts to help clients meet basic, emergency needs.

Though I haven’t been able to deploy to other provinces due to work responsibilities, I feel proud to have made a difference many times and contribute to the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross. It’s a very rewarding experience and I look forward to another 13 years!  

If you would like to volunteer with us, read about how to apply and current opportunities

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