Jenny Burns was one of the first volunteers to sign up to help plan for sheltering during the pandemic.

She was on a call to update volunteers on COVID-19 response activities when she learned about the East Texas tornado tragedy.

“We immediately deployed and have been here since the morning of the 23rd,” said Burns.

With new pandemic safety guidelines in place, Burns is one of the few in-person volunteers supporting the tornado victims and she does a little bit of everything.

Her main job is to support volunteer staff services, virtually and in person, making sure each team member has what they need to support the response.

Since she is onsite, she also helps with sheltering and anything else that needs to be done.

One day when she was helping check people into the hotel, a man, on the verge of tears, walked in with his mother and stood in the entryway looking lost.

“The first thing he said was ‘I’m sorry that I am wearing my house shoes,’” Burns recalls.

“I told him, on this day you apologize for nothing. You have been through this horrible disaster there is nothing you have to apologize for.”

As Burns comforts him, he breaks down into tears as he tells his story of survival. One of the things that stuck with her was his journey to the shelter.

“He’s telling me that as they were driving, he points to something out of his mom’s passenger side window and asks if she can see what it was,” Burns recalls. “He was trying to focus her attention anywhere but the side of the road where they had brought bodies up so she wouldn’t see it. He really touched me because he was trying so hard to be strong for his mother.”

It’s been more than two weeks since the tornadoes struck East Texas, testing all of the plans the Texas Gulf Coast American Red Cross put in place to safely respond to a disaster during a pandemic and for Burns it felt like previous responses.

“I volunteered to help support the Red Cross client resource center for the TPC plant explosion, but this was the first time I had helped support a shelter,” Burns remarked. “It felt really good to be there, hear their stories and help do something for them.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer to help your community prepare, respond and recover from disasters visit:

Story by, Ekland Durousseau, Photo by Marco Bracamontes, Red Cross contributors