Story and caption by: Jay Bonafede, American Red Cross
Photo by: Stefanie Arcangelo, American Red Cross

Pam Parish is a Respiratory Therapist at Christus Health Southeast Texas. On Saturday, she chose to spend her day off volunteering with the Red Cross at Southeast Texas Flood Relief headquarters in Beaumont. In October of 1994, Parish was on the other side of a relief operation.

“About 11 p.m., water started coming into the back of my mother’s house. We evacuated her and my six-year-old nephew to my house a street away because ‘it never floods’,” she explained. The family lived in Sour Lake’s Pinewood Estates near the Pine Valley Bayou. “At six the next morning, there was a knock on my door, and I felt a squish in the carpet. We were trapped.”

Soon, there was about 12 inches of water in Pam’s home. Her mother’s house had about four and a half feet of water.  They put her nephew into a plastic garbage can that would float and walked two blocks through neck-high water to a two-story home. A few hours later, a boat came and evacuated them. It was almost a week before the water receded enough for them to go back and start the clean-up process.

3.26.16 Pam Parish (9)
Red Cross volunteer Ray Thomas shows Pam Parish a computer program at the Southeast Texas Flood Relief Headquarters in Beaumont. Parish wanted to help flood victims and repay the support she received from Red Cross volunteers when her own home flooded 22 years ago.

“The American Red Cross showed up almost immediately,” Pam said. “They brought cleaning supplies:  mops, brooms, blankets. They were dropped off at each home. The next couple of days, that’s when the food trucks would come by. They would pull in the driveway, give you a hot meal. It wasn’t a sandwich, it was a hot meal. That lasted for several weeks. That’s what I remember the most; it still gets you emotional.”

“The volunteers didn’t have to be there. They were not from this area. Total strangers, helping out in a time of need.”

Ever since, Pam has contributed to the Red Cross, both financially and by donating blood—six gallons so far. After the recent Southeast Texas floods, she wanted to do even more. On Saturday, Pam was doing a lot of data entry to help the relief operation.

“I feel like even though I’m not physically helping out, I know it’s something that has to be done,” Pam says. “There are so many tasks that have to be done to make the whole process complete.”

It can be a slow process. Pam says that 22 years ago, it took her six or seven months to get back in her home. Her mother’s cousins gave them a travel trailer and they lived in the driveway.

When she reflects on this life-changing experience, her reasons for volunteering are clear. “I want to help,” she says. “After all, I know what these people are going through.”