Written by: Samantha Antenucci
Months after the hurricanes wreaked havoc in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, local residents still face hurdles on the path to recovery. While most of us cannot imagine the devastation, local Red Cross volunteers who have traveled to the affected areas have had a first-hand look at the recovery efforts.
When the hurricanes first struck, Red Cross volunteer Heidi Dampman was originally intending to leave for a vacation. When she first heard about Hurricane Harvey, she postponed her plans and took of an extra week of unpaid time off from work to go down to Texas to help. She recalled, “Even if I was going to get fired for taking off, I still would have done it. If I would have lost my job, that would have been alright, because for the first time in my life, I knew I was doing something right.”
Dampman’s positive attitude was contagious during her time in Texas where she drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle into damaged neighborhoods to provide families with hot meals and drinks. As she was setting up for her shift, she had an idea to lift the spirits of the community members. She turned up the music in the truck for the neighborhood to hear, and as soon as she did, young children to the elderly, came out of their homes and started dancing in the streets! Dampman was giving them more than just a hot meal, she gave them hope.
Even though there were some heartwarming stories, Dampman remembers the hardships of her deployment as well. She recalls an image of a family standing outside of their home with all their belongings sprawled out on the front lawn. With an estimated five feet worth of flood damage, their home was destroyed. When she offered the family food and water, they started crying. Dampman said, “It was difficult. You really got attached to the people there.”
Unfortunately, home destruction is not uncommon. John and Jane Hoopingarner, both Red Cross volunteers, worked in spiritual care for victims of Harvey as well. The Hoopingarners were deployed for two and a half weeks to Beaumont and Port Arthur and volunteered to listen, encourage, and work to restore some sense of normalcy to the hurricane victims. When the Hoopingarners arrived, they witnessed “the miles of damage with homes that were flooded to the roof and so many people lost absolutely everything.”
They described how some people were able to return to work and began to start over, but so many people were left homeless and moving from shelter to shelter. While there, the couple lived in and worked in the shelter with other victims, consoling them as much as they could. Mr. Hoopingarner recalled how many were in an emotional and physical downward spiral and how they managed to escape the disaster on helicopters and boats.
Mrs. Hoopingarner shared some of the stories of the people she encountered at the shelter. She shared how a family consisting of a single mother, and her two children, a 12-year-old daughter with disabilities and her 16-year-old son, came to the shelter after the hurricane. The family was in turmoil and Mrs. Hoopingarner consoled the family every day, sometimes twice a day, until her deployment ended. Once she left Texas, Mrs. Hoopingarner described how the mother found a job and started working while the people at the shelter would look after her daughter while she was at work!
When asked what people can do to help the victims of the hurricanes, they emphasized, “Though the recovery is still raw, we ask people not to forget what happened to Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico once the news stops reporting on it.”
Though the damage is done and the news has simmered down, the recovery is still new, raw, and will take years to bounce back.