Texas Gulf Coast American Red Cross

First-time Red Cross volunteers discover the rewards of helping strangers 

By Jim McIntyre, American Red Cross 

HOUSTON, Texas – The box truck pulls into the mobile home community and parks.  American Red Cross volunteers Frank Casillas and John McCarthy lift the rear door, revealing several pallets loaded with relief supplies.

Residents begin to gather behind the truck, patiently waiting for Frank and John to unwrap the boxes of bug spray, toilet paper and plastic trash bags.  The supplies are then handed off to the growing but orderly crowd.  Frank speaks to the residents in fluent Spanish, telling them what supplies are available.

Since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast, the Red Cross has distributed more than 1.3 million relief items, free to the thousands who are still consumed with salvaging belongings and making homes livable again.

It takes Frank and John about 20 minutes to empty the truck.  It’s hard work, but both of them say they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It feels wrong not to do something,” said Frank, a Los Angeles resident who works in finance. “So I went to the Red Cross, took some training, and in a couple of weeks I got the call to come to Texas.”

John is also a new volunteer. He works for the State of New York.  “I should have done this a long time ago,” he said.  “There’s so much divisiveness in this country.  We transcend that.

“The Red Cross is a force that brings everyone together.  It doesn’t matter what kind of people are in need.  Everyone matters.”

The two report to a warehouse every morning, along with dozens of other volunteers, who are assigned routes and drop-off locations in and around Houston.

“These communities don’t have a lot of help,” said Frank.  “Everyone’s running on thin margins here and are making the best of it.  We see the smiles on their faces.  They thank us.  We know we’re making a difference.”

“It makes me feel so much joy,” John said, “I feel guilty for feeling so much joy.”
Frank admits he wondered whether volunteering for the Red Cross would be worthwhile.

“It so is.”

Red Cross volunteers John McCarthy and Frank Casillas begin to unload supplies from a box truck at a mobile home community in Houston. (Red Cross photo by Jim McIntyre)