10 Disaster Deployments in Less Than Two Years: Yvonne Lambterson's Story
By George McCrory
In her one-and-a-half years with the Red Cross, Yvonne Lambertson has responded to 10 disasters near and far from her home in Merna, Nebraska. From the Dixie Fire in Northern California to the Kentucky tornadoes to the grassland fires in Western Nebraska, she has seen a lot.
And she has nine Group-Activity-Positions (GAPs), including sheltering, feeding, disaster assessment and now recovery, which has been her volunteer function in recent deployments.
She gets satisfaction helping people in these varied times of need. “Every story is different," she said. "The gratification you get every single time is different too.”
She sees the same diversity among Red Cross volunteers as well.
“They come from all walks of life and can provide something. Every one of us has different skills and experiences, but we have the same purpose: to make the client feel safe and secure,” Lambertson said.
She knows what it’s like to lose everything. In 1994, her home burned to the ground. With an 18-month-old on one hip and a three-month-old on the other, Lamberson’s most vivid memory was the American Red Cross driving up to her burning home after the fire department arrived.
“The Red Cross made sure we had a safe place to stay and financial assistance to buy clothing and personal care items,” she recalled. “It was amazing how quickly they showed up and how they took care of us.”
Lambertson joined the Red Cross in August of 2020 and completed training certifications in GAPs that include disaster response, client casework, mass care feeding and emergency response vehicle (ERV) driver. Emerging from a difficult time in her life and her service in the U.S. Navy, Lambertson looked for a community of like-minded people doing good things.
Her first national deployment was virtual, responding to a flood near Detroit, but then she deployed in person as a disaster responder to Northern California wildfires, Tennessee flooding, tornadoes in Arabi, Louisiana, and recovery after the Marshall Fire near Denver, Colorado.
In December 2021, Lambertson deployed over the Christmas holidays to the tornado response in Western Kentucky, leaving her six kids and eight grandchildren to serve meals as she joined nearly 500 Red Crossers from across the U.S. As one of a few dozen feeding and emergency response vehicle volunteers for the tornado response, Lambertson went into devastated communities every day, distributing up to 300 hot lunches to those affected by the disaster. Lambertson made sure that everyone she spoke with knew the Red Cross was in town to aid and made sure everyone who needed aid knew how to reach the Red Cross.
“I’ve met some of the greatest people at the Red Cross and in the communities where we work,” Lambertson recalled. “When I deploy to a disaster, I might arrive in a new town not knowing anyone, but when I go back home, I have new friends for life.”
She’ll never forget meeting an 84-year-old man who had lost his Greenville, California house in the Dixie Fire. The man, who was blind, evacuated to a Red Cross shelter where she was working.
“He told me ‘I’m 84 and have to start all over again,’ but he was happy that the Red Cross was there and was thankful that we had given him a home for a while,” Lambertson said. “We got him some compact discs to play. He never asked for them - we just did it.”
In 2022, Lambertson deployed to several disasters closer to home in the Nebraska-Iowa Region, including a tornado near Winterset, Iowa, an apartment fire in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a canteen and respite operation for first responders who fought a grassland fire near Arapahoe, Nebraska.
Starting as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) responder, Yvonne is now a DAT Supervisor and DAT Coordinator. She likes hearing from people who appreciate Red Cross assistance, such as a woman from Merna who received Red Cross assistance after a house fire.
“It’s a fulfilling thing to do," she said.
Looking ahead, Lambertson looks forward to being in a leadership role in the Red Cross and will attend the Region’s Disaster Institute in Ankeny, Iowa, and Leadership School in Omaha. She advises new volunteers to get trained and advance into leadership as well.
It’s evident that Lambertson carries her Red Cross service close to her heart, but she went one step further and tattooed “Red Cross Disaster Services” on her arm, taking the Red Cross motto: “Sleeves Up, Hearts Open, All In” to the next level.
Portions of this article were adapted from a profile written by Mimi Teller for the American Red Cross, Kentucky Region.
You can learn more about volunteering with the Red Cross by visiting redcross.org/volunteer.