• NEIA Red Cross

Smiling Through Masks

By Emily Holley Regional Communications Manager - American Red Cross Nebraska Iowa Region


The call came one week after the Iowa Derecho hit. It was time to put on the Red Vest.


This would be my first Red Cross disaster deployment, and though I was nervous, like all Red Crossers, I answered the call. In record time, I had packed a bag, said goodbye and good luck to my husband, and was on the road to Cedar Rapids. My mission was to be a story producer and work with a photographer and videographer to capture the experiences of those affected by the derecho. During my five days of deployment, I met dozens of people, all impacted differently by the derecho.

I met a Vietnam War veteran and his wife. This proud veteran put on his war veteran cap when I asked to speak with him and his wife. I learned that they were staying in the shelter because he was on oxygen and needed medical support. Nurse Helen, a Red Cross volunteer from Indiana, regularly came to check on them, share a laugh, and hear his stories.


I met sisters at Cedar Terrace, one of the apartment complexes decimated by the storm. They came to Cedar Rapids over 10 years ago from Micronesia in the hopes of building better lives. When the storm hit, it blew out the windows of their parents’ apartment, putting an infant at risk. They felt lucky that, even though they had to rebuild their lives again, no one was hurt.


I met a young couple at the shelter who, after a week of homelessness following the destruction of their apartment, were grateful for hot meals and a safe place to sleep in the Red Cross shelter. Over coffee and Girl Scout cookies, they shared the terror they experienced on August 10. (LINK)


I met Red Crossers who also answered the call for help to provide services during a global pandemic because disasters don’t stop for viruses. Masks were worn. Social distance observed. Meals were individually packaged and carefully served. Each Red Cross volunteer I spoke with told me that while they understood the importance of staying safe, it was hard to give comfort without being able to hug, pat on the back, or even directly smile. Yet, each found a way to overcome those challenges.


I saw comfort come in the form of listening, sharing and even laughter. Each Red Crosser found a way to smile through their masks, and I was proud to be among them.

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