Red Cross volunteer Tom Shands, of Jamestown, gave a presentation for the Friends of the Moniteau County Library last Tuesday.
Shands talked about his experiences with disastrous situations, including the Rhineland flood of '93 and the Mid-Missouri tornado's effect on Eldon last year, to name a couple.
When a disaster strikes, Shands does his best to make himself available around the clock not only locally but nationwide, too. From coast to coast, people know him as "Cowboy Tom" thanks to his signature cowboy hat, which he wears to help individuals identify him at Red Cross shelters.
He talked about how disasters are hard on the people involved because not only are they losing their belongings, but they're losing a home where they've made countless memories. Shands said he's met so many families that had so much, only to be left with so little. But he makes it his mission to be there for these people and families and help them realize it's going to be okay — that there's going to be a tomorrow.
Though Shands prefers no disasters happen, he said his favorite disaster to volunteer for is single-family house fires.
"I really enjoy doing what I do," Shands said. "I don't enjoy it because it happens but because I get to work one-on-one with (people)."
Shands and the Red Cross use a tactic called the Pillow Project. It initially started to help children gather their valuables, but it can also be useful for adults. The Pillow Project is simple — when a disaster is imminent or does hit, take your pillow out of your pillowcase and pack the case full of all your most important belongings, things that you don't want to leave behind.
The Red Cross and Shands stress the importance of having a disaster kit ready in case of an emergency. These kits can be purchased on their website or DIYed. Some things to keep within your kit: a first aid kit, extra food and water, blankets, clothing, flashlights, and extra batteries.
If you're looking to help, the Red Cross is always looking for volunteers. If you don't have time, there are other ways to give back. Donate some items for the kits they hand out to the individuals affected: shaving cream, soap, razors, floss, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Some extra things they put in for children include coloring books, small activities and stuffed animals for comfort. It's important for these items to be small or travel-sized. Put in a gallon zip lock bag and drop them off at your local Red Cross office. Money donations are also appreciated. The money will be spent locally in the area affected to help rebuild the town's economy. Otherwise, donate some blood or your time at a blood drive.
For more information visit www.redcross.org.