By: Stacy M. Brown for the Pocono Record
With Texas being hammered with intense storms and tornadoes, a Pike County couple didn’t hesitate to pack their bags and head south to help strangers, particularly those suffering the loss of all of their belongings and who held out little hope that their fortunes could turn.
John and Jane Hoopingarner have been volunteering for the past three years with the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Team in Stroudsburg.
Last year, the couple thrice traveled to storm-ravaged areas in Houston and Dallas, where they came face-to-face with many who suffered severe hardship, some who even lost loved ones or friends during the horrific storms.
“I gained real appreciation for the things we take for granted every day,” Jane Hoopingarner said. “We’ve worked with people who have lost virtually everything, and that really does give you a better perspective on things.”
The Red Cross helped prepare the couple for the volunteer work, which included assisting in fire, storm and other disasters.
“Although our assignments come out of the same program with the Red Cross, everyone we encounter is different and the assignment is different in how we handle and meet the needs of the people,” John Hoopingarner said.
While they’ve been volunteering with the Red Cross for the past few years, the Hoopingarners have spent a lifetime helping others.
The couple met on a volunteer church mission more than 45 years ago, and they shared a passion for assisting the downtrodden and a love for helping their fellow man.
“We actually met on a mission team in Mexico, and we started out together that way,” John Hoopingarner said. “We’ve done it all. I was an EMT for 20 years, and Jane taught English as a second language. So, we’ve been volunteering all of our lives.”
That volunteer work also includes working locally in Monroe and Pike County offering relief to victims of disasters here.
“We got a phone call (Tuesday) asking us to be on stand-by for this weekend when the weather is expected to be really bad and there’s a possible storm coming here,” Hoopingarner said.
The Red Cross teaches its volunteers the fundamentals of assessing damage after a natural disaster. They instruct volunteers on how to classify damage, write damage descriptions and interact with victims in the community.
“The vital work of the American Red Cross is made possible by volunteers. It is through the time and care of people like John and Jane that the Red Cross can do extraordinary things, and we truly can’t do it without them,” said Dave Skutnik, the regional communications manager for the American Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania.
“The Red Cross is always looking for people with various backgrounds, talents and skill levels,” he said, adding that interest individuals should contact the Red Cross in Stroudsburg to sign up.
The organization provides all of the necessary training.
“Part of the training means you can also train for a regional or national deployment. When there’s a widespread disaster needing many, many volunteers,” Jane Hoopingarner said.
“Training is pretty extensive and they offer numerous classes to learn about the different types of disasters. We really appreciate the learning that’s available to Red Cross volunteers because it really does help us to be ready to respond,” she said.
Last year, the couple took three trips to Texas; Jane Hoopingarner went alone to Texas in June for two weeks while her husband spent two weeks in July volunteering in Kentucky.
In November, they teamed up to return to Texas and then, on New Year’s Day, the couple went back to Texas, where storms and tornadoes have destroyed about 1,400 homes.
“On this (latest) trip, we were assigned to help people in a shelter to find housing,” John Hoopingarner said. “The shelters eventually have to shut down, and some of the people where challenged financially, physically and otherwise but over a period of five days, we were able to find housing for them through a local church and other partners.
“In Dallas, we were located in a service center, where hundreds of people came for assistance, and we were able to help them on the road to recovery.”
Through volunteering, the couple has also been able to forge lasting friendships, they said.
“When I was in the Houston area, we were out in an area where they were flooded, and there were many people who had their own wells but they had become contaminated and the water was in very scarce supply,” Jane Hoopingarner said.
“A woman stopped me and asked if I had any water. I said I had a few bottles in my trunk, but let me come over to your house and we’ll talk. As I assessed the damage, we realized that the Red Cross could offer a whole lot more than a couple of bottles of water. Eventually, after talking with her, we were able to get her a lot more assistance, including financial assistance.”
The couple, who have three children and three grandchildren, said they’d encourage everyone who can to volunteer. They’ve served in many areas across the country and locally, including in Philadelphia during last year’s visit of Pope Francis.
“It’s rewarding,” John Hoopingarner said.
To become a volunteer, call the Stroudsburg office at 570-476-3800.