Story and photos by Bonnie Robert Will , Red Cross contributor

Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) drivers from all over the U.S. converged on Nederland, TX, ready to load up with freshly cooked, nutritious meals and roll through the streets, feeding the distraught whose homes had been damaged or destroyed by Imelda. 

One day in the life of an ERV team would exhaust most. 

Sunny Gilber and her husband Russ are on their first deployment. They came to Texas from Tucson, AZ, to serve those impacted by Imelda. The couple retired from busy lives, she was a surgical RN and he was an asset manager who owned his own company. They moved to Tucson to be closer to their grandchildren but still had plenty of time to spare. Looking for opportunities to volunteer, they discovered the Red Cross would be right up their alley with an array of options to deploy and help those in need. A year into their Red Cross journey and they’ve already trained and studied for thirteen different volunteer roles. Pretty impressive. Imelda has provided the Gilber’s their first opportunity to distribute food from an Emergency Response Vehicle.

Sunny has a cheerful empathetic attitude with the people she encounters on the feeding route, always asking how they are recovering when she hands them their meals and snacks. 

Robert Walsh, also known as Bob, from Nacogdoches, TX, found he had some time two years ago and decided to volunteer with the Red Cross. Walsh is the organizer of the group and serves as the navigator. He makes sure all supplies are handy and in their proper position, he plates food for people on their route, and just makes sure everything runs smoothly. Walsh is also empathetic; he was worried about an elderly couple on their route who were hard of hearing and is now working with the Red Cross to make sure this couple has a bed shaker smoke alarm installed in their home.  Now that is going above and beyond. 

Bill Day from San Antonio is the character of the group, he is a jokester and loves to make you smile. He drives carefully, listens attentively, and patiently maneuvers slowly through the neighborhoods they are serving, making public address announcements about the free lunches, dinners, and snacks available.  You can hear him over the PA system in the ERV as he rolls through the streets: “Red Cross is in your neighborhood with free hot meals, snacks, and water. Come up to the truck and we will serve you.” 

This team and many other ERV teams are up from their cots in the staff shelter no later than 6:30 every morning, eat a quick breakfast  prepared by the Texas Baptist Men volunteers, then head out to their ERV to load water and snacks they will need for their lunch route. Next, they go through the line to load the hot food and then they roll. Heading out to the neighborhoods, rural areas, and shelters they serve. Day drives the truck and once they arrive, meals are dished up by Walsh, snacks, water and the meals are handed to the residents by Sunny. It’s a team effort and delivery of lunch from start to finish takes about four hours.  Then it’s back to the kitchen, unload empty boxes and reload for dinner.  They do it all again for dinner. In all, it’s a 12 – 15-hour day of hard work. Their reward is knowing they helped, knowing the people on their route or the shelter they delivered to have a good nutritious meal twice a day.  

Empathy, sincerity, compassion, grace, and a good energy level are traits found in ERV teams. This team has all that and more. That’s the way they roll.