Story by Jon Breems
The challenges one encounters in the face of disaster are extensive and, at times, surprising- almost as surprising as the people one meets. After the recent flooding in Colorado, Joel Bruinooge volunteered with the American Red Cross to help with its relief operations in the state. Joel was stationed at a Red Cross shelter designed to provide food, lodging, and other emergency services to those displaced by the floods.
“I was impressed with the expertise and commitment of my co-workers”, said Joel. “It felt good to be a part of a Red Cross team where we were all supporting each other”.
However, Joel soon realized that his fellow volunteers were not the only ones he would need to support. One woman he met in his work at the shelter approached him confused and distraught. The woman was deaf and unable to use a phone to alert any of the emergency agencies for help. However, she could read lips, and with Joel acting as her advocate, they contacted FEMA about assistance.
Joel also helped people who were homeless before the flooding. Many who arrived at the shelter were in poor health and had experience with substance abuse and mental illness. Joel was able to get them the medical attention they needed and assured individuals that they could return to the shelter once they were cleared by a hospital.
While working at the shelter, Joel approached a couple in the parking lot who appeared to be living out of their car. The couple told him that they had driven down from the mountains with all of their possessions packed into their vehicle. They had lost everything else to the flooding. Joel invited them to stay in the shelter, but, to his surprise, the couple said they had not come to the shelter to seek assistance, but to donate food to those in need.
“It was a humbling experience”, Joel said. “The independent, self-reliant spirit of the Colorado citizens really came through”.
Joel is one of 31 volunteers from the Red Cross of West Michigan who helped in the relief operations for the flooding in Colorado. Your gifts enable stories like Joel’s to happen across the country wherever an emergency may strike. To support the Red Cross and its volunteers like Joel, please visit redcross.org.