Story by Olha Hirka and Robert Middaugh, American Red Cross
Photography by Olha Hirka
At 6 a.m. on a recent, warm and cloudy morning, Red Cross Transportation Services driver James King arrives at the American Red Cross building in Houston, Texas. He looks around for a moment, then walks over to a large white truck. After verifying that it is gassed up, he performs a safety inspection, gets in, and pulls out of the parking lot in route to his first pickup of the day.
King is one of nine Red Cross drivers who provide transportation services for veterans, people who are elderly, the chronically ill and people with disabilities in the Greater Houston area. The service, which was started by the Greater Houston Area Chapter and dates back to the 1940s, gives these individuals an independence that they would not ordinarily have. Each truck is fitted with features, such as wheelchair lifts, that make the trip easier and ensures access to critical medical appointments.
The first stop is at the home of Ronald Guillory, a veteran suffering from chronic orthopedic conditions that make walking difficult. He has used the Red Cross service for four years and is enthusiastic about it:
“I feel very fortunate to have this since there is no Metro transportation in my area,” said Guillory. “The Red Cross drivers always provide service that is ‘above and beyond.’” After dropping Guillory off at the VA hospital in downtown Houston, King drives back to Red Cross headquarters for his next assignment – giving a ride to clients with Parkinson’s Disease who are there for therapeutic yoga/tai chi/exercise classes.
Caroline Hall and Robert Daniel agree that the exercise classes are helpful. Hall, a petite lady with an infectious smile, says that the activities give her “strength and joy.” In a steady rain, King helps Hall and Daniel into the truck and departs to drop the two off. Hall is taken to another location for therapy; Daniel is returned to his home.
The next pickup is Mayra Cantu, a young woman who is in a wheelchair as a result of a carjacking 11 years ago. The Red Cross truck picks up Cantu from her therapy session at TIRR Memorial Hermann and takes her to another TIRR location for additional therapy. Finally, King heads on his last trip of the day to Deer Park to pick up a client from his home and drop him off for dialysis treatment. In total, Houston’s Transportation Services, led by Steve Atchison, gave more than 25,000 one-way trips to those in need in the past year.
What encourages King to continue giving his time to this program?
“So many people need help – the elderly and even some young people who are down on hard times due to health issues. When these people thank me, it just gets to me,” said King. “When I see people trying, I want to lend a helping hand.”