By Ashley Peterson-DeLuca
“Right now, we’re just doing what we can to give people food, a roof over their head and a place to sleep,” says Dani Mallas, a Nebraska and Iowa Region Red Cross volunteer on deployment in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at a shelter for evacuees from Hurricane Ida. Mallas is working the night shift at the front desk at the basketball-stadium-turned-shelter, registering up to 30 people a day.
Hers is the first face people see after a long, stressful night of travel. People are using cars, buses or “just plain luck” to get to the shelter. Mallas adds: “They are running out of gas on the way and the stations are just empty. They have to wait hours for gas. One couple even took an Uber all the way from New Orleans.”
But everyone is ecstatic to find a shelter with room for them. Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana on August 29 with winds up to 150 mph, knocking out power for much of the state, shutting off plumbing and causing flooding. Many have lost so much, only getting to the shelter with the clothes on their backs. A week later, many families still cannot return home.
“What surprised me is how resilient people are,” says Mallas, who is on her second deployment with the Red Cross. “People are so grateful, and they just want to help out around the shelter. We tell them they don’t have to, but people want a purpose. One lady helped us organize a pile of donated clothes and another guy helped us with the really heavy trash bags.”
Mallas has been in Louisiana since August 27, staying at the same shelter as her clients. Helping hundreds of people in the middle of a natural disaster isn’t easy.
“We’re rolling with the punches. Every time we’ve had a struggle, like running out of blankets on the first night, once we’ve solved it something else pops up,” says Mallas. “But, no matter what, we keep working to get people the resources they need to feel safe.”
Mallas is a recent graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and is taking the summer to volunteer with the Red Cross.
She says, “When I was in college I didn’t have time to volunteer, But, I’ve always been interested in the Red Cross and wanted to be part of it. I love what we do.”
If you too want to make a difference and are interested in helping people during or after a disaster, learn more at redcross.org/volunteer.