By Gretchen Hjelmstad, American Red Cross
NEDERLAND, Texas – Fellow American Red Cross volunteers describe Maddie Cartagena as a constant source of joy and inspiration.
This irrepressible New Yorker has been in Texas since Aug. 28, delivering food to communities hard hit by Hurricane Harvey.
“We’re going to feed people and we’re going to make people laugh!” she yells out the window as she waits for her emergency response vehicle to be loaded with hot meals.
The food, prepared in a Southern Baptist field kitchen, will be lunch for thousands. As of Oct. 3, the Red Cross and its partners have served more than 3.7 million meals and snacks to those affected by Harvey.
In a span of half an hour, Cartagena can be seen singing, dancing, laughing and waving a miniature American flag around the cab of her truck. This despite the fact she has family in Puerto Rico, slammed by another fierce hurricane.
Her enthusiasm is so contagious, her fellow disaster responders presented her with a highly-coveted Red Cross Challenge Coin. Challenge coins are pocket medallions presented by organizations like the Red Cross in recognition of special service.
As her food truck is being loaded, she jumps out and starts dancing around the parking lot. Her driving partner holds a cell phone up to the radio to amplify the familiar tune “We Are Family.” It’s a fitting theme for the thousands of Red Cross relief workers who have come together to support Texas.
Volunteer Richard Conner hears the music and runs over to join Cartagena. He’s part of the disaster response operation’s transportation and logistics team. Although his home in Galveston suffered water damage, Conner has been helping with Hurricane Harvey relief since the beginning.
“Any bit of levity helps,” Conner explains as he realizes this is day 35 on the job.
Conner and Cartagena dance in the parking lot, bumping hips with their hands high in the air. Even after weeks away from home, working long days to bring relief to storm victims, they are typical of the spirit of energy and generosity of Red Crossers who answer the call to help.