Helping the Helpers: the Power of Community Partners

By Bristel Minsker, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

When Red Cross volunteer Lynda Holm deployed to Middletown, Calif. to help with the wildfire relief effort, she knew little about what she would be doing there, only that she would be working in mass care. When she arrived, she was given an important assignment that would put her leadership skills as a firefighter into action.

“With hotels around the region full, I was charged with opening and managing the shelter for all the Red Cross volunteers who had come to town to help,” Lynda said. She was given the location and contact information for the would-be shelter: the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Middletown.

This was a new role for Lynda, but when she met with the Church leadership to get things set up her nerves as a first-timer were immediately settled.

“They were so warm, and they welcomed us to their facility with open arms,” she said. “Since the moment we met, they have done everything possible to make us feel comfortable.”

One of the Church elders gave Lynda is personal phone number so that she could call anytime if something in the building needed fixing. She was touched that he would be so accommodating. And then, when the elder came by to help with maintenance one afternoon, Lynda found out that his own son had lost everything in the Valley Fire.

“All he asked is that I share with him the stories of our volunteers on the front lines. The church congregation knows that they are playing an important role by helping those of us who are providing direct services to the community, and it helps them to know that they are a part of that.”

When it came time for their weekly service, Lynda began making arrangements to clear the volunteers and cots out of the sanctuary so that the church could hold their regular service. But instead something surprising and heartening happened. They told Lynda that she didn’t need to clear out.

“They said, ‘We’re going to hold our service outside and have a potluck. When we agreed to host the Red Cross here, every member of the church decided that this would be your home as long as you needed it,’” Lynda recalled.

To return to the kind gesture, Lynda immediately called Red Cross logistics to secure a tent so that they would have plenty of shade for their outdoor service and potluck. It was the very least she could do to return their kindness, she said.

Under Lynda’s stewardship, the ongoing partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist Church community—and the many other strong partnerships like it—has been critical to the safety and comfort of the Red Cross volunteers who have left their daily lives behind to come help on the front lines.

Everyone who plays a role in the response, including those who help the helpers—like Lynda and the church elders—are an important part of helping families impacted by the wildfires get back on their feet.

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