As residents along the Gulf Coast deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, a Jefferson City Red Cross worker who has helped in the relief efforts after other hurricanes knows what a long and arduous road these residents will face in their recovery efforts.
Don Barnett goes to the disaster scene and provides for victim's immediate needs — food, clothing and shelter.
He helped with relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012.
"I drove the feed truck along the outer banks in New Jersey, and the ocean went right over all the houses and the sand was everywhere — inches to feet deep," Barnett said. "People had possessions out on the street to be destroyed, and I remember seeing a gigantic pile of ground-up people's possessions in one area, and that really affected me."
Barnett also helped survivors of Hurricane Irma in Florida in September 2017, and again the devastation of such a large storm left a lasting impression on him.
"We had to push through ocean trash and make sure you didn't run over something that could puncture your tires," Barnett said. "Water was sweeping over the only road to get to an area we had been assigned to help, and that was scary."
Barnett said driving around in areas where people's homes and livelihoods have been destroyed is "horrible," but he has continued to serve, helping out last year when areas of northern Missouri were affected by flooding.
He was inspired to become a Red Cross volunteer after watching the evening news in 2009.
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"They interviewed someone who was involved with the Red Cross, and I realized I could do that," he said.
Barnett worked for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for nearly 30 years then worked in public schools for seven years.
He never dreamed he would go out on a fire call as soon as he did — six months after he began volunteering.
"If you show interest, you get out there," he said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and his age, Barnett is standing down during the Hurricane Laura response for now — but he said if he can help in some way, he would.
The ongoing pandemic has affected the number of current Red Cross volunteers who are available to deploy to disasters, so the organization is asking healthy individuals who can deploy up to 14 days to consider becoming a temporary disaster volunteer. They primarily need volunteers to support sheltering efforts for disaster victims.
"The things that take up a lot of our time at disaster scenes are sheltering, providing food and then disaster assessment where people go around and look at the damage," Barnett said. "We do that so, if they don't get assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then we can give then some funding."
Anyone who would like to volunteer should visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.