By Harsha Pradeep
Back home in Beaumont after two weeks of volunteering with the American Red Cross disaster relief efforts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Linda and Steve Buser took some time from catching up on household chores to talk about what they witnessed first-hand driving an emergency response vehicle (ERV) in the flood-ravaged areas of East Baton Rouge.
Linda and Steve retired at the beginning of 2016 and felt a keen desire to do volunteer work.
“When we retired, we said ‘Now we have time to pick and choose who we can volunteer with,’” said Steve Buser. “Then disaster struck right here at home – the flooding along the Sabine River in April. We just walked into the Red Cross office and said we wanted to volunteer.”
Inspired by their faith, their children and grandchildren, the Busers knew they had the heart for serving in the emotionally intense aftermath of disasters and found they were best suited to driving ERVs.
“We got to serve on an ERV and see people hungry and we were able to put a smile on their faces by giving them a smile and a hot meal. We knew that was where we wanted to go,” said Linda Buser. “There’s a place for everybody but we’ve found our niche and it’s feeding people.”
Married for 40 years and living along the Gulf Coast, the Busers are intimately familiar with fear and uncertainty during and after a natural disaster.
“We’ve been through Hurricane Katrina with Linda’s parents,” said Steve. “Her family came to stay with us. Then Rita hit here and we evacuated here and went over to stay with them. We came here after living in New Orleans for Ike and the disasters after. We’ve had a lot of experience with people losing their homes. “
Yet, none of that compares to what they saw in East Baton Rouge in the last few weeks. As soon as Linda got word of a storm coming she notified the local Red Cross office of their availability and they arrived in Baton Rouge on August 15.
“What I witnessed in Louisiana was total devastation,” said Linda. “It was every house, every street, everywhere – people were hungry, they were tired and their homes were destroyed. The children’s schools were flooded. It was a very underprivileged area we were feeding so the children had no security. Everything they owned was out on the street – their toys, their bedrooms, their sheets, everything that meant so much to children. Their whole lives were turned upside down.”
In tears as she talks about the havoc, Linda is also emphatically proud of the work done in East Baton Rouge by the American Red Cross. Every day, the Busers served 4000 lunches and 4000 dinners out of their ERV. Most disaster relief operations have one kitchen but the devastation in this case was so great, the Red Cross served meals out of four different kitchens. When the Busers arrived, 23 ERVs were in service. By the time their rotation ended on August 28, the ERV fleet had increased to 34 to keep up with demand.
They spoke passionately about the commitment and self-sacrifice of fellow Red Cross volunteers. Housed out of a church gym in temporary communal shelters and sleeping on army cots, volunteers formed deep bonds among themselves. They worked together to cope with the emotional stress of disaster relief and the physical toll of helping so many in the oppressive, sweltering heat.
Linda and Steve returned home to get some well-deserved rest and attend a family wedding but their thoughts are still with the clients in Louisiana. Both intend to return as soon as they can.
“Not everybody can take two weeks out of their lives. Most people have to work. What makes us continue to go back is the smiles on those children’s faces,” said Linda of the Red Cross clients she served. “There’s an enormous need there and it’s not going to end today or tomorrow.”