American Red Cross
By CARL MANNING (From Illinois Region Blog)
For Ken Opatz, being an American Red Cross volunteer delivering meals to those affected by a tornado that struck Gifford, Ill., it was payback for a time not so long ago when the roles were reversed.
Ken and his wife Ann live in Lisbon, Iowa and are working as a team in a Red Cross emergency response vehicle, delivering meals three times a day to those busy trying to salvage what they can from what is left of their homes.
The idea of being a Red Cross volunteer started for Ken in 2008 when he was trying to help his mother-in-law salvage her home after the Iowa floods. One day as he was working, a team of Red Cross volunteers drove up, offering food and telling him about a shelter where they could clean up.
“When I saw them, I thought what a deal, I want to be a part of that. So when we retired, we decided to do this,” he said.
Robert Ackerman takes a break from helping his son Bob to pick up some food for them from the American Red Cross vehicle that’s driving through a section of Gifford, Ill., that was struck by a tornado. His son’s house received major damage and Robert is helping him to salvage what they can. (American Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)
Ann agreed, adding, “We want to help other people and want to do something meaningful in our retirement. This is really a good use of our time.”
Ken and Ann slowly cruise the streets of the tattered neighborhood, announcing over the vehicle’s loudspeaker: “Red Cross is here. We have hot food and hot drinks.”
The idea of a quick lunch was appreciated by Robert Ackerman, busy helping his son Bob, whose home had major damage including a collapsed roof.
“This is really wonderful of you guys to do this. This will really save us time,” he said after Ann handed him his lunch. Robert said it allowed him and his son to keep working rather than taking time to drive somewhere to eat then return to resume work, a loss of a couple of hours.
At one point, the invitation for hot coffee caught the attention of a utility crew that had been spending most of the chilly day restoring electrical power. They quickly gathered around the vehicle, taking a break and warming up.
An American Red Cross emergency response vehicle pauses to provide hot food and coffee to those helping with the cleanup in Gifford, Ill., after a tornado tore through parts of the small town. The vehicle is driven by Ken and Ann Opatz of Lisbon, Iowa, who decided to become Red Cross volunteers after they retired so they could help people. (American Red Cross photo by Carl Manning)
As the Red Cross vehicle drove by, people busy sifting through debris stopped for a few moments and watched, some waving and smiling. At one point, Ken got out and walked up to a group working in a yard to talk to them as Ann watched.
“They are extremely grateful for everything from a granola bar to a hug. Sometimes, they just want to talk and know that somebody cares,” she said.
For Ray, what he’s doing now goes back to that day in 2008 when those Red Cross volunteers stopped and offered to help.
“We’re just paying it forward,” he said before driving to the next street.