9 am: Normal work day
10 am: Overhear Eric Nelson, Operations Management Lead, have a conversation about possibly opening a shelter
11 am: Decision has been made to open a shelter in Portland, Michigan
12 pm: Eric briefs our group at lunch about the supplies and groceries we will need to open a shelter
1 pm: AmeriCorps to their battle posts
2 pm: Make sure Emergency Response Vehicle is ready to roll. Deanna and Chip take care of flood of media coverage.
3 pm: AmeriCorps sent home to pack.
4:30 pm: AmeriCorps report back to Red Cross Chapter.
6:30 pm: Arrive at Portland Middle School, location of Shelter, and begin my first experience managing a shelter.
And so began the journey of seven AmeriCorps members and the dedicated Red Cross volunteers as we opened a shelter in Portland, MI during the Blizzard of 2011. After scoping out the territory we would be staying in for the next 15 hours, we planned where the best places to have our food station, sleeping spots, registration table and recreation area. We used our muscles to carry in load after load of disaster comfort kits, bottled water, sleeping cots, trail mix, blankets, soup cans, various other preparedness items, copious amounts of food and my favorite, Clif Bars.
Once we were set up, we had time to watch the snow fall in full force as we swapped past disaster relief stories. Some of our volunteers have been on dozens of national deployments to help with natural disasters and have many tales to share. They have helped with the medical needs of clients during disasters, serving people who lost everything during Hurricane Katrina and operating large scale shelters. Being from South Florida, the only natural disaster I could compare this to was my experience filling gallon water jugs and nailing up the shutters for hurricanes.
This was also my first time sleeping in a shelter and, as I searched for a spot to set up my cot, I had to resist the temptation to run a la Breakfast Club down the empty hallways lined with rows and rows lockers. Thoughts of 80s movies, 4-hour sleeping shifts (if one were to sleep) and adrenaline kept us going strong.
But The Breakfast Club and a good nights sleep are beside the point. What we know is that our shelter served people in need during what is now called the Blizzard of 2011. People stuck in the snow banks, teenagers stalled on the highway and individuals with nowhere else to go were welcomed into the warmth of a Red Cross shelter with the comfort of hardworking volunteers. The Red Cross was there with a heated room, comfy blankets, places to sleep, guitars to play, basketballs to shoot, and of course, plenty of Clif Bars.
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