By Ken Rosenauer, American Red Cross

Family: It’s a term used a lot at the American Red Cross kitchen site at the First Baptist Church in Texas City, Texas.

Disaster volunteer Kim Walker, from Cleveland, Ohio, discovered new “family” during her two weeks with the Red Cross in the Lone Star State.

Kim Walker
Red Cross volunteer Kim Walker from Cleveland, Ohio, still had a smile on her face on the last day of a two-week disaster deployment. She was administrative assistant at the Red Cross kitchen at the First Baptist Church in Texas City, Texas. (Red Cross photo by Ken Rosenauer)

“I have two families here,” she said. The first was the five volunteers with whom she spent her first four days, working in a shelter in Houston. One volunteer was a veteran, and the others – including Walker – were newbies and anxious to help, anxious to learn. That family supported her through her orientation period.

Her second family were Angus and Penny MacLennan, husband-and-wife veteran volunteers from Lewis, Delaware. They work together as Red Cross site managers of a kitchen cooking up 3,300 hot meals, twice a day.

“I don’t want to leave,” Kim said on her last day in Texas, her eyes filling with tears. After 10 days as Penny’s administrative assistant, working in a hot, cramped emergency response vehicle parked behind the church in Texas City, she choked on her words. “I’d very much like to stay, but my husband calls me home.”

Kim Walker2Kim reflected the emotions felt by many Red Cross volunteers, pulled between service and family. The term family comes up often in conversation.

Penny and her husband drove a Red Cross truck from their Delaware chapter, where they have been volunteering for the past 10 years. This is Angus’ fifth deployment and Penny’s third.

At home, Penny is in charge of a soup kitchen operated by the Epworth United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

She said their emergency response vehicle was among 50 that arrived in a wave – what she calls “the great Texas ERV drive.” Crews from all over the country arrived Sept. 1 in Houston, just two days after rain from Harvey finally stopped, and quickly bonded into a relief “family.”

Penny and husband celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary during their two weeks in Texas. Not a problem. Last year, they were deployed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for their 29th anniversary.

“The needs of many of these victims go far beyond the Red Cross,” Penny said. For example, she recalled the case of a single mom still living in her flood-ravaged home, where the smell was a constant reminder of mold growing behind the walls and under the floors. The woman had no clue about where to even begin getting repairs for her home.

Sometimes, there is no immediate solution, except to feed them and hug them, Penny said.

For nearly two weeks, it was Kim’s job to help make that possible. She pointed to the wall matted with pink, orange and yellow sticky notes that track daily meal counts and delivery routes. A business strategy and program management professional, she had learned what’s really important about the colorful wall: “It’s the people that the board represents.”

She looks forward to returning to Texas – to the families of responders and the families of storm survivors – after spending time with family back in the Buckeye State.

“I’ll go where they need us,” she said.