Heroes among us: Volunteers during local disasters

By Latasha Brown, Communications Coordinator
When looking at a map of Northern Saskatchewan, you’ll notice the roads are few and far between. It’s easy to wonder, how do people get help promptly during times of need? The answer is through the dedicated volunteers locally placed throughout the community who spring into action when duty calls.

The strength of the Red Cross worldwide is its representation on the ground in communities almost everywhere. This includes places in rural and more remote areas of Saskatchewan.

An Indigenous woman standing in front of large trees wearing a ribbon skirt and jean jacket.Thanks to the support of the North Sask Victim Services, four volunteers located in these communities trained as Red Cross Personal Disaster Assistance Responders, have been tirelessly working to ensure that no one faces a home fire or disaster response on their own.

In 2021 alone, they responded to 13 home fires and provided emergency assistance to more than 49 people.

One volunteer, Jennifer Roberts-Cook, pictured right, went above and beyond when over 1,500 people were forced to evacuate due to wildfires in Southend that summer. Jennifer stayed in the community to help ensure constant communication between those affected and the Red Cross so everyone could get what was needed.                    

Having familiar faces from the community respond during a time of crisis helps build and maintain trust among those affected. The nuances of everything from language preferences to familial systems no longer remain stressors or barriers throughout the recovery process. Jennifer explains:

“[Community members] don’t have to go to great details in explaining their family systems, as we are already aware. Community members also have the opportunity to speak their original language (Cree), when working with local Red Cross volunteers, which puts them at ease and allows them to fully express themselves.”

These factors are crucial to reducing friction when helping people navigate post-crisis experiences and allowing those already going through a difficult time to feel seen, heard, and properly supported. This is the beauty of locally placed volunteers, as these connections strengthen community-centred networks.

Two women sitting outside with flowers in the background.Two volunteers, Caroline Parenteau and Sarah Settee (pictured left) cover the northern communities of Pelican Narrows, Sandy Bay and Deschambault. In 2021, they responded to seven house fires and provided emergency assistance to 21 individuals. Throughout her role in helping people during crises, Caroline speaks to the value of prioritizing community-centred networks.

She emphasizes, “It is important to create a network that becomes stronger with each link added, as we can say at the end of each day, that I know someone in that community that can help.” With trusted volunteers in the community building and nurturing connections, is what makes a meaningful difference in providing the best aid possible during times of need. 

In addition, having locally placed volunteers respond to personal disasters and other crises, especially in more remote communities, provides the benefit of immediate relief suited to the needs of each family and individual.

Mavis Wright is another volunteer, from the Montreal Lake area, who has responded to six fires and has helped 28 people last year.

A headshot of a woman in glasses with long, brown hair smiling at the camera“Our community truly benefits from Red Cross,” explains Mavis, pictured right. She notes that her community has large, tight-knit families that would prefer to stay together when a crisis happens but can be difficult to accommodate at times.

Following a disaster, local volunteers can respond right away to ensure those affected have their immediate needs taken care of including safe accommodations for the whole family, clothes to wear, and food to eat. This peace of mind allows them to begin focusing on planning their next steps with some stress alleviated.

The impact of having locally placed volunteers within various communities is immense. Improving the quality of assistance through trust and understanding, while being able to strengthen community networks is in essence what we strive to achieve with our work.

Feeling inspired? Join our team of hard-working volunteers to help ensure assistance is readily available to anyone affected by a disaster - no matter their location. Training and support are provided! Visit redcross.ca/volunteer for more information.

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