Sometimes a simple toy is all that’s needed.
“Mary” preferred that we not identify her family by their real names, but she was willing to have their story told.
Mary appeared at an American Red Cross shelter in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, but she didn’t bring her family in with her. First she wanted to make sure that Red Cross would welcome them – including “Tommy,” her young non-verbal, developmentally disabled adult son who spends each day in a wheelchair. Assured that she and her sons were welcome, and that Red Cross would work with her family to support them with whatever was needed, Mary was relieved and brought her family into the shelter.
Tommy was having a very hard time acclimating to the shelter and the staff wanted to find a way to help him feel safe and secure. His mother indicated that he needed hand toys, specifically toddler-appropriate sensory toys if possible. With access to the toys, her son should be able to relax and adapt to the shelter environment.
Vicki LaBelle, a Red Cross volunteer from North Carolina who had been helping Mary and her family settle in, understood this; she also has a child with special needs. Vicki called Red Cross team-mate Peter Brown, deployed from Pennsylvania, who was on the road looking for supplies and breakfast items for the shelter.
“It’s after 9:00 on Friday evening,” Peter related, “the first two grocery stores were closed, and options for finding the appropriate toys seemed very limited.” A third grocery store provided the breakfast items, but didn’t have any toddler toys. Two local pharmacies were already closed.
Where to go? Peter decided to try Walmart, and found Walmart Store #5612 about 3 miles away. But when he arrived, the store appeared to be closed, with some Walmart team members working at the front entrance. A store manager called out to explain that the store would reopen in the morning.
“I explained I was with the Red Cross and asked for their help to support a special needs client,” Peter said. Walmart staff welcomed him into the store and helped locate several items including a set of sensory shape toys. “Staff members throughout the store called out their thanks for the Red Cross support of their community as I left to head back to the shelter.”
Twenty minutes later, something wonderful happened. Mary gave Tommy first one and then another of the sensory toys. The frightened, upset young man became calmer and soon settled into a relaxed state.
The next afternoon, Red Cross helped them transfer to a larger shelter with resources available to help the family start on the road to recovery.
“The Red Cross is firmly committed to serving the needs and interests of all people,” according to Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, “including those with disabilities, throughout all lines of service, at all times, and in every way.”
In this case, it took not only sensitivity to the needs of a special client but also creativity and teamwork in identifying a solution and an act of care and compassion by the Walmart team to help the Red Cross honor its commitment to serve the needs of all clients.