Irv Landry, one of the Johnson Apartments residents, displaced by last week's fire in East Moline, said he was thankful for the assistance he received from the Red Cross in the wake of the fire.

While I was surveying the damage left behind by last week's fire, which rocked the lives of everyone living in a downtown East Moline apartment building, I heard those two words which always lend comfort in the face of disaster.

I had encountered them before while covering a fire this past winter and again countless times during the flood-raved spring. Like most, I take those two words for granted, knowing when disaster strikes, "it'' will be there.

"It'' is the Red Cross.

"They said the Red Cross is helping,'' an onlooker said, while assessing the damage done to the Johnson Apartments. The blaze left five families homeless and in need of immediate assistance.

"The Red Cross will help them,'' he continued.

The man, and two others standing nearby, expressed a 'Red Cross-is-coming' sigh of relief. In a community filled with many givers and a few takers, I've learned the Red Cross to be the ultimate giver.

Irv Landry was one of those residents of the Johnson Apartments displaced by last week's fire. While sitting out in front of his burned out apartment building he made sure give thanks to the Red Cross.

"The Red Cross was down here. (They) took my information and gave me a card with some money on it," said Landry.  He added that the $300 came in handy quickly for a hotel room and some clothes. "I come out so quick I just had my shorts on, I didn't have any underwear. So I went down to Farm & Fleet to get me another nice pair of shorts and a package of underwear."

To assist people like Irv and his neighbors, whose home, and its contents, have been destroyed by fire or washed away by flood, is amazing. To have an answer or two for a person devastated by disaster, is comforting on so many fronts.

"Our volunteers, with the training they have, don't have parameters, they don't say: "Hey, don't call me between 4 and 6 a.m. on Mondays,''  said Trish Burnett, executive director the Red Cross for the Quad-Cities and West Central Illinois. I reached Burnett by phone in her Moline office this week.

"They (Red Cross volunteers) take the call. That's who they are,'' she added. "That's how meaningful my job is, I get to see it firsthand. Our volunteers see a need and just do it. It is an amazing gift. To just roll out of bed and assist a total stranger takes a special person.''

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The Red Cross website says it responds to a disaster every 8 minutes and over 62,000 of them nationally each year. It says the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services to assist families and entire communities get back on their feet.

Burnett says each team called to assist and assesses a disaster, handles everything case-by-case based on victim's need. There is no standard. It does its best to provide every person affected the best temporary relief possible.

Some need housing, all are offered food vouchers and financial assistance. The Red Cross is trained to assist and help with medication issues, medical devices and with identification needs. Trained mental health professionals are also available. Everyone the Red Cross assists is offered necessary toiletries.

Each situation is a new situation, Burnett explained.

"There is not a set amount,''  added Burnett when asked about financial assistance for disaster victims. "Our volunteers know those dealing with a tragic event — that has turned their lives upside down — need comfort and assurance.''

Having trained mental health experts at the ready also falls under the Red Cross umbrella.

"We have licensed mental health volunteers,'' she said. "A lot of times — in addition to the many things you deal with — you simply need someone to talk with. Having someone trained in that field, that understands your plight and your feelings, is important.''

Sadly, there will be more fires and there will be more floods. 

"We'll be there,'' Burnett said. "It's what our amazing volunteers do.''

And they do it well.

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.


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