Pride is what Barbara Sierra (53) exudes when speaking about her apartment at Geneva Tower in Cedar Rapids. Sierra lives with chronic pain and diabetes, which hinder her mobility. For her, home is more than just where you hang your hat. "It was the first time I was doing everything on my own," Sierra said. "And that meant a lot to me." As she was getting ready for bed in the small hours of the morning on February 20, she heard police banging on her door, yelling at her to evacuate the building. She grabbed her phone, coat and keys and made her way out with the rest of her neighbors.
The fire that started on the upper floors of Geneva Tower displaced several dozen residents. Geneva Tower is an income-based property that is home to a population with disabilities and who are elderly. Many are now staying in the Red Cross shelter at Veterans Memorial, including Sierra.
Yvonne Lambertson is one of the Red Cross shelter workers in Cedar Rapids to support Sierra and the average fifty residents per night. Lambertson, from Merna, Nebraska, experienced a home fire 29 years ago, while she was in the Navy. She said that, with the exception of the firefighters, the Red Cross was first on the scene. She promised herself that she would give back one day. Now she is on her seventh disaster deployment with the Red Cross in just over a year. Most recently, Lambertson was on disaster deployments to the Marshall fire in Colorado and the tornadoes in Kentucky. She received a Red Cross pin for each of her deployments.
Lambertson is one of 44 volunteers, currently deployed to the Red Cross Geneva Tower fire response. Volunteers are assigned different duties. Some are working with health services. Others are in charge of feeding. Other volunteers, like Lambertson, are in charge of sheltering. Lambertson travels from bed to bed chatting with residents, finding out what they need, and also sitting and listening. "I have a big ear and a big heart," said Lambertson when asked what she likes about volunteering. "I love seeing the humanity and how people are."
These chats with Red Crossers are a welcome distraction to Sierra, who has struggled since the fire. She misses her first independent home and her sense of safety. She is grateful for the support and the Red Cross shelter volunteers who work to make sure that she feels safe and supported, but she misses her home. "It's gonna take me a minute to get back into my security," Sierra said. "It's not gonna knock me down. I'm a strong woman."
Right now, American Red Cross Disaster Services need more volunteers, everywhere. When asked what she would say to encourage people to volunteer, Lambertson said, "You can't buy this kind of gratification. You just have to give a little bit of your time because people need it."
If you are interested in volunteer opportunities, please visit redcross.org/volunteer.