By Angelina Nachimuthu
Every eight minutes the American Red Cross responds to a disaster and nearly all of those are home fires. So in June 2016, when fire ripped through a Wharton County apartment complex, a Red Cross team was there offering food and shelter. More importantly, they offered emotional support and Pamela Stewart was the face that greeted them.
“We are a team,” said Stewart referring to husband Dr. Jeffrey D. Stewart, a Red Cross Disaster Program Manager. Pamela has actively taken part in Wharton County’s response to fires and flooding as the friendly face of the Red Cross. Through fires and floods – she has been with her husband and their team offering compassion and care to adults and children affected by the disasters.
Disasters are by nature chaotic and devastating. They tend to bring emotions and long buried memories of loss to the forefront. Some go into shock, others just need someone who will listen, diverting attention from loss and engaging in a positive manner. As a former police officer, pastor and emergency service chaplain, Jeff understands the role of emotional and spiritual comfort. He encourages and empowers his wife and his volunteer team to provide the best assistance they can in helping the people affected by disasters to move forward. He also understands that even caregivers need care and makes sure his team and other Red Cross volunteers are taken care of.
As Jeff copes with the logistics of the Red Cross response; Pamela steers people in need to caregivers and other Red Cross volunteers who can specifically address their needs. She is the client coordinator, offering water and stuffed animals. She makes sure everyone talks to a caseworker and has access to food, shelter and medicine. A part-time teacher and doting grandmother, Pamela shares classic stories like Billy Goat and Pied Piper with the children. She says it is surprising how having something to hold, like a blanket or a stuffed animal can calm a person. She offers stuffed animals to everyone regardless of age or gender. She tells them, keep it and some day you can put it under your Christmas tree as a token that you survived. This method helps the client focus on the future and see past their current loss.
Pamela’s kindness and compassion have earned the trust and hugs of clients seeking comfort and escape from bad memories. And for her, the best reward of all is seeing the joy children get from her stories.
The Stewarts are comparatively new to the Red Cross and draw inspiration from those who have been doing this for a long time. “Volunteers who leave their warms beds in the middle of the night to take care of others, who move towards disasters when others are trying to escape it are the true heroes. We are truly blessed to be part of the American Red Cross story.”
If you would like to be part of the Red Cross story or prevent home fires by participating in a Home Fire Campaign smoke alarm installation, please visit http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.