01 September 2005

Phoning it in...

I did my first shift on the phone bank at my local Red Cross today. It was quite an experience.

First of all, the number of people calling in who want to help is really overwhelming-- in a good way. As I mentioned below, the Red Cross here is offering a fast track disaster assistance training program, and all the classes (5 sets of classes, 100-odd people each) are already full. We're taking down peoples' names for the next round of classes, and we probably have at least another 500 names on THAT waiting list. And the calls are still coming in. And bear in mind that these are all people who are willing and able to commit 3 weeks (minimum) of their lives to living in the same conditions as the people we all see on television right now-- no running water or electricity, not much food (MRE's, at best), sleeping on a cot (or the floor) at shelters, etc., etc. It's pretty cool that there are, literally, thousands of people who are willing to help-- and that's just in a couple of days in one medium-sized city.

And there are the people who can't give their time, but are incredibly generous with their money. Two separate donations today of $1000, many many more measured in the hundreds of dollars.

And then there are the people who call to rant. I had two of those today.

The first one was appalled that people who were being evacuated from the New Orleans Superdome were being sent to the Houston Astrodome. "That's ridiculous, " she practically shouted at me. "You need to move people into real shelters and homes. You can't keep putting them in these horrible places."

The second woman was in tears, outraged at something she's seen on TV (or maybe in the newspaper): a little boy wasn't allowed to take his dog on the evacuation bus. "How dare you not allow people to bring their animals with them? How dare you?"

I understand their frustration, these two women. I really do. They're seeing things on television that are unspeakably awful, outrageous, simply wrong-- unacceptable in every sense. And they don't know who to complain to, have no idea.

So they call the Red Cross. Sure, why wouldn't you call the Red Cross? They're practically synonymous with "disaster relief," not just in this country, but all over the world. So they call the Red Cross to complain. And complain they do. To me, a volunteer who walked in off the street yesterday to help answer phones. I am about as far removed from the chain of decision-making as possible-- just as far as removed as these people who have called in to complain.

I tried (and, I think, succeeded) in explaining this to them. I symapthized with them-- because I agree with them-- if not exactly, then at least in spirit: this situation, what we are seeing on television and reading about in the newspapers and on line, it's unspeakably awful, outrageous, simply wrong-- unacceptable in every sense. Someone should DO something.

Which is why I'm sitting there taking their calls.