Red Cross volunteer: “This is what we do; we go where we’re needed.” 

Dawson Springs, Kentucky was just one of the communities that was severely damaged by a series of tornadoes that swept through several states on Dec. 11. Photo by Jodi Wallace/American Red Cross

It was Dec. 11, and Jodi Wallace, a 16-year veteran Red Cross volunteer from California’s Silicon Valley chapter, was already tired when she got the call to go to Kentucky after a series of tornadoes had devastated broad swaths of that state.

Wallace, 60, had spent most of August responding to California’s Gold County fires and then moved on to assist with the hurricane response in Louisiana. After that, she had helped with the flood response in Washington state. She had been home for only a little more than a week, ready for a well-deserved break, when the call came in.

She knew the scale of the disaster meant the Red Cross would be needed more than ever, so she asked her husband what he thought. “He always tells me, ‘this is what you trained for,'” Wallace says. He’s even teased her: “Would you like me to pick a better month and schedule a disaster for you?”

While many Red Crossers chose to leave their friends and families this holiday season to help out those affected by disasters across the country, they were still able to find some holiday cheer while carrying out their somber assignments. Photo courtesy Jodi Wallace/American Red Cross

“This is what we do; we go where we’re needed,” says Wallace, who has been on more than 50 Red Cross disaster responses since she became a volunteer in 2005. “I’ve missed weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays,” she says. “This was my first time missing Christmas.”

But her children are grown, and her grandchildren live in another state. Her husband swore he didn’t mind. She could do it.

So, by Dec. 13, Wallace was in Kentucky. The next day she was in the field, filling a special Red Cross role in which she traveled to areas impacted by the disaster and met with local residents to determine what help they needed from the Red Cross.

The job involved at least 100 miles a day of driving and brought her to a series of small communities between Bowling Green and Mayfield, some of which had areas where “it looked like they had dropped a bomb.” Dawson Springs was the worst, Wallace says. The tornado “hit the middle of town. It was a lot of devastation,” she says.

Red Cross volunteer Jodi Wallace said she was particularly struck by this scene of parts of a playground still standing amidst the devastation. Photo by Jodi Wallace/American Red Cross

A resident told her about someone who had survived being picked up by the tornado and tossed several hundred feet. Two days later, when visiting motels to make sure those affected by the tornado knew how to sign up for Red Cross services, she came across the woman she’d been told about.

“She had her two little kids under her arm when the roof fell on them,” Wallace says. “She looked like someone had beat her up.” But they had survived.

“I always remember why we’re doing this, who we’re there to take care of,” Wallace says. “If we don’t take care of each other, who’s going to?”

Wallace returned home to San Jose on Dec. 27, and on Dec. 28, she was doing her laundry, running errands, and getting ready to respond to the next disaster.

To learn more about becoming a Red Cross volunteer, go to: redcross.org/local/california/northern-california-coastal/volunteer.html.

To donate money to help the Red Cross mission, go to: redcross.org/donate.

The Red Cross also has a critical need for blood donations. To find out more, go to: Redcrossblood.org.

About the author: Barbara Wood is a Public Affairs volunteer for the Northern California Coastal Region.