By Rebeca Ledford, Red Cross Volunteer

An embrace. A touch. Holding someone’s hand who has lost everything and moving freely among tens, sometimes hundreds, of people in need. This is what I know as a volunteer for the American Red Cross; what I’ve known, really for fifteen years.

And yet, I am standing here in this quiet, empty warehouse pulling supplies for delivery to the Red Cross volunteers in Onalaska, Texas who are working recovery at a shelter from the Wednesday night tornado. Normally, this building would be loud and noisy with six to eight people here working alongside me. But now, due to COVID-19, we must work independently and distance ourselves from others. As a longtime volunteer I’ve been to many disasters and I’ve had the honor of working with an amazing core team in Southeast Texas. What we do, we do side by side: preparing meals, delivering supplies, opening shelters and doing all we can to offer food, comfort and a warm place to stay during disaster.

But today I look at the walls of this warehouse by myself. I think about how, on another day during another year, we would hold shelter patrons and hug them while we cry…we would play with their children. I’d just grab my Red Cross bag and head out the door. Now our work is about comforting from a distance so everyone can stay safe. It’s about searching for my mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes and goggles before getting out of the car. It’s about wanting to bring joy but having to stop and consider how to do so in different ways than ever before.

As I stand here alone, I realize I’m up to the task. Our mission is to alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies and it’s what drives me. All of us at the Red Cross will continue to serve as best as we can until the day we can hug, hold and be around others again.

Yes, I’m alone, but ready to serve, and will be for years to come.