March 30, 2018
DEFINITION: Responding readily and with interest or enthusiasm; service oriented.
Danielle Paolillo, like most Americans, watched the news as Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas and caused unspeakable destruction. With family and friends in the Houston area, she felt completely helpless sitting safely in her St. Joseph, MO home. Danielle wondered what she could do to help.
“I sat there and thought…I wish I could do something, I wish I could do something…and I finally said, enough. I’m going to volunteer. I will never regret making that decision,” says Danielle.
Shortly thereafter, she decided to go online to the American Red Cross website and fill out an application to volunteer for disaster relief. Days later, she was put on the fast track to train immediately with the Northwest Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross, and finished a one-day workshop in Platte City.
As the next hurricane bore down on Florida, Danielle received a 24-hour warning call from the Red Cross to be prepared to leave to provide relief in Florida. On Monday, September 18, just weeks after filling out her volunteer application, she was on a plane to Orlando and went to work.
First assigned to the Tampa area, Danielle was assigned as a “feeder.” As thousands of meals were cooked in a makeshift outdoor kitchen by the Southern Baptist Association, vehicles known as Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV’s) were stocked with the food to hand out to communities throughout the area.
“Tree branches lined the streets, and thousands were without power. Since there were no shelters nearby provided for these people, we were the only way they received a hot meal,” says Danielle. She and other volunteers spent 8-12 hours a day in the sweltering humidity providing meals, snacks and water to those who had no place else to turn.
At night, Danielle stayed in staff shelters with basic accommodations, then moved to an economy hotel with other volunteers. After a week of distributing food in the Tampa area, she was sent to Miami, where she was assigned to warehouse duty with the task of preparing totes of supplies for communities who had lost everything.
“Some streets were still flooded due to additional rain, and the living conditions were just awful,” says Danielle. “Many homes and trailers had roof damage in the neighborhoods we visited. We handed out tarps and cleaning supplies. Local community leaders also jumped on our truck to help hand out items. We were able to give away all our supplies in under an hour. Everyone was so grateful, it was just amazing. Neighbors came back with cold water or Coke just to say thank you. They were so kind, it was humbling,” says Danielle.
After two weeks volunteering for the Red Cross, it was time for Danielle to return home to St. Joseph and head back to work as a Laboratory Computer Coordinator at Mosaic Life Care.
“I wouldn’t have been able to volunteer if it weren’t for my husband and my boss, Jennifer Sapp. Both were incredibly supportive. I called Jennifer and said I was leaving with only about 24 hours notice. I’m so grateful they were understanding from the beginning,” says Danielle.
Danielle will now determine her role as a volunteer for disaster relief for the Red Cross on a case by case basis. Locally, that could mean helping a family who has lost a home by fire or other traumatic incidents. Nationally, it could mean any weather disaster or incident.
“It was hard to say goodbye. It was incredibly easy to befriend other volunteers and get to know the people I served with … it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
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