I have been a volunteer with Salvation Army Disaster Services for several years. I went to a flood site as a ham radio operator and somehow ended up as a volunteer radio operator, mobile kitchen driver, and food server.
In my experiences, I have seen sadness, human suffering, tragedy, and incredible damage in which survivors have lost everything. As a major in the U.S. Army once said, “If you can go to a Hurricane Katrina and not be affected, I worry about your heart.”
When you hold a person who is sobbing nonstop, when a person is grateful for a hot dog and coffee, when a small child smiles when they have a cup of hot chocolate and a cookie, you realize why you are there. You also realize you are helping when you are listening and talking with them, hearing their stories and giving them a chance to vent.
When people ask if I’m a disaster volunteer, I tell them, “Yes, and I get paid.” Their look is incredulous and they ask, “You get paid?” I always reply, “Yes, with a handshake, a ‘God bless you,’ a hug, a thank you, and the smile on a small child who has a hot dinner. Yes, I get paid – and money can’t buy that feeling.”
There is also camaraderie with other volunteers, survivors and relief workers. We are in it together, so let us work together.
Being a disaster volunteer is extremely rewarding, and an opportunity to pay it forward to those people who have helped you in your life. You are helping survivors and you are supporting the police, the fire department, and others who protect your community. All it takes is a little of your free time.
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Blog by Frank Powers, Salvation Army Disaster Services volunteer