Doing what you can, when you can

By Andrea Mendoza

bob-elaine_420x279With Red Cross experience that spans more than 26 years, volunteers Robert and Elaine Florkowski are no strangers to disaster response. While their endless contributions to the Red Cross, dating to the early 1990s, have always been appreciated, the spotlight on the Benicia couple was especially bright at the most recent recognition dinner for Solano County volunteers. At the 2018 annual event, they were awarded the Clara Barton Award, recognizing their many years of volunteer leadership.

For Robert, it was an earthquake in South California that led him to a nearby Red Cross office to learn more about what to do in a future disaster. He decided then and there to volunteer and help others be better prepared in case another earthquake hit. “I liked putting together and teaching classes, as well as preparing the monthly meetings,” says Robert.

Throughout his many years as a shelter manager for the Red Cross, Robert has also deployed to other states to assist in emergency situations. Over the years, he figures he has volunteered at more than a dozen disasters, including a deployment to help with the September 11 attacks in New York. Noting how simple yet personally rewarding Red Cross service can be, Robert remembers a particular deployment in which he served as a shelter manager in Mississippi during a bad flood. “I got to go to all of the flooded areas and directly helped the people affected,” he recalls.

During her own years of Red Cross work, Elaine has put her nursing background to good use, serving as a Health Service Lead in Solano County. She was inspired by what the Red Cross could do and by the number of people she could help through the organization. “I did enjoy it when I was a Registered Nurse,” says Elaine. “I was one who took care of a lot of clients, too, and those have been memorable experiences to me.”

In addition to her assistance in the medical field, Elaine has also worked with client services — which she describes as a lot of fun — and supported the Service to the Armed Forces program at the Travis Air Force Base.

“It’s nice getting to receive an award that acknowledges the time and effort you put in to help patients and clients,” says Elaine, speaking modestly of the Clara Barton Award. Robert adds that he was completely surprised to learn about the recognition. “I didn’t think what I did was a big deal,” he says. “You just do what you can and when you can.”

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About the author: Andrea Mendoza is interning with the American Red Cross in the Santa Rosa office.

Become a Red Cross Volunteer: You can make a difference in the San Francisco Bay Area by becoming a volunteer with the American Red Cross. Volunteers constitute about 94 percent of the total Red Cross workforce to carry out our humanitarian work. Red Cross volunteers are trained to meet the needs of those affected by disasters, providing food, shelter, and comfort for families affected by major disasters such as fires, floods, and earthquakes as well as helping local residents prepare for and recover from emergencies of all kinds. We’ll find the position that appeals to you and allows you to use your skills and talents. Email arcbav@redcross.org to get started.