Summer 2020 Volunteer Story

There was just enough time to do some laundry, mow the lawn and follow through with a prescheduled dental appointment before Tom and Karen Oliver left town again. The husband and wife, longtime Red Cross Disaster Volunteers, had just returned home after spending three weeks in Texas where they helped those displaced by Hurricane Laura, before heading out again, this time to Oregon, to provide help and hope to residents impacted by historic wildfires.

Those fires have burned millions of acres and destroyed thousands of homes across the west.

“I am amazed by the destruction that’s been going on in Oregon,” said Tom Oliver, speaking of his–at the time–fourth deployment this year. “It gets pretty rough; we’re told not to get emotionally involved but it’s hard not to. It’s gratifying to know that we’re there to help them.”

Being “there to help them” has become 2020’s routine for the Olivers of Union City, Ohio, who started their year of disaster deployments by spending 15 days in Michigan this June assisting those displaced by flooding. The Olivers say they “like deploying as a couple and giving back.”

July took them to Virginia to await the arrival of Tropical Storm Isaias. The couple then spent 20 days in Texas working in sheltering operations for those displaced by Hurricane Laura. Soon after, they were in Oregon for eight days to provide comfort to those who were forced from their homes by the wildfires. Tom and Karen are now in Louisiana where Hurricane Delta broke a more than 100-year-old record as the 10th named storm to make U.S. landfall in one disaster season. Delta was also the 5th hurricane-strength storm to make landfall in the U.S. this year — the most since 2005. Four of those named storms hit Louisiana.

Tom and Karen are working as shelter associates in Louisiana where residents, whose homes were destroyed or severely damage by any one of the named storms to hit that state, are staying in hotels provided by the Red Cross. As of October 11, the Red Cross and partners provided 9,300 people with safe refuge in the areas affected by Hurricanes Laura and Delta. The Olivers are among some 720 trained Red Cross disaster workers who are supporting shelters and emergency relief efforts in Louisiana, either on the ground or virtually.

Across the country, thousands of Red Cross disaster responders have been working tirelessly to help a disaster-weary nation after back-to-back-to-back life altering events. The Red Cross has provided 993,000 total overnight stays in emergency lodgings across multiple states and has served more than 2.4 million meals and snacks, as well as distributed 295,500 relief items with the help of partners. Red Cross volunteers have provided 88,600 individual care contacts to help people with medical or disability needs or provide emotional and spiritual support during these challenging times.

As for Tom and Karen, their spirits still aloft and they desire to continuing helping. As Tom puts it, “Each disaster is always a little different, each job a bit different to fit the needs of the community, but the mission is always the same…it’s about taking care of people.”

The article is the work of Marita Salkowski with the Red Cross Central and Southern Ohio Region.

About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

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