Vermont Red Cross volunteers return from Ian recovery in Florida

The first wave of Red Cross volunteers from Vermont are either on their way home or waking up back in their beds after helping recovery efforts following Ian
Published: Oct. 18, 2022 at 8:56 AM EDT
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STARKSBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - The first wave of Red Cross volunteers from Vermont have returned or are on their way home after helping with recovery efforts following Hurricane Ian.

At least three Vermonters and nine people from New Hampshire went to Florida to assist however necessary.

WCAX News spoke with Joanne Russell of Starksboro about three weeks ago as she left the Burlington airport for her first deployment with the Red Cross. Now, she’s back in her Starksboro home, sharing what she saw.

Watch our Dom Amato’s interview with Russell about her experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Dom Amato: Volunteers from Vermont are back home this morning, including Joanne Russell, who recently returned from Florida after assisting people in need of shelter following Hurricane Ian. She joins us live this morning. Thank you so much for waking up with us.

Joanne Russell: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Dom Amato: We first met you about three weeks ago, headed out from the Burlington Airport. At the time you told us it was your first deployment with the Red Cross. So what was your role in Florida?

Joanne Russell: It ended up being a lot of shelter aid work, basically assembling cots and serving dinner, cleaning the rooms, cleaning the floors, and then a lot of one-on-one time with some clients.

Dom Amato And what was that experience like for you?

Joanne Russell: It was exhausting, both physically and emotionally. I became somewhat of a pro at assembling cots. It was very rewarding to be able to spend time with clients and just kind of be a source of comfort for them. It was really quite wonderful.

Dom Amato: So can you tell us where exactly where you were and what, if any, damage you saw?

Joanne Russell: I was just outside of Fort Myers in the same county as Lee County. And I actually did not get out to see a lot of damage, mostly because we were really in the shelters working a lot. Our work shift was 12 hours, so I was 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and then I would get up and basically shower and start the day over again.

So I did not get out to see a lot of the damage. And there was no television on in the shelters so that the clients weren’t constantly reminded of the devastation.

Dom Amato: And what was it like to see these people in person? We hear from them in these news stories but what was it like to see them in person and hear their stories?

Joanne Russell: You know, that was hard. A lot of these people lost everything they had. I met an elderly man who was forced to evacuate, he chose to stay behind and then later forced to evacuate because his home wasn’t safe. And after living an entire life of raising his family, and collecting memories, he had to pick and choose what he could walk away with and chose a picture of his wife that he shared with me.

She was doing what she loved, and one of her paintings, and the rest he had to let go. That’s just so incredibly sad to think that you would have to be in that position. But amazing how kind and compassionate each one of these people was in the face of devastation. I mean, it was amazing. Certainly, some very important work that you and many others are doing.

Dom Amato: Joanne Russell, thank you for your time this morning. And thank you for volunteering.

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