RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Three weeks after Hurricane Ian devastated large areas of Florida, Virginia Red Cross volunteers are returning home, following their deployments to assist those left without food or shelter.
Jerry Silva, based out of the Richmond office, has been on 15 deployments. But he told 8News Thursday that this tour in Orlando and Fort Myers was particularly heartbreaking.
“This one was heavy because when it came in, it took everything,” he said. “Houses were just torn off the pillars […] and people still lived in them, and the kids and the elderly are the ones that got me more than anybody ’cause where are they going to go? Who are they going to go with?”
Silva returned from his two-week Florida deployment on Friday. His primary focus was on staff services, providing support for volunteers in the area.
“If I take care of the volunteers, they then can go take care of the clients,” he said. “The last thing that we want is for them to worry about where their lodging’s going to be, how they’re going to get a ride back, and stuff like that.”
Silva said that teams of Red Cross volunteers swap out shifts during deployment.
“We’re always rotating in, rotating out, and we educate each other as to what to expect, where to go, and to maintain that Red Cross attitude that we have,” he said. “They’re coming in. They haven’t experienced it. We have, and when we leave there, it’s heavy.”
According to the American Red Cross, hundreds of individuals in Florida remain in shelters, with thousands more depending on the organization for food, water and other support. More than 2,300 Red Crossers have supported relief efforts following Hurricane Ian, according to a release, providing nearly 1.4 million meals and snacks, alongside partner organizations.
“You have to be strong for them. But you also have to be kind, and that’s what they want and that’s what they need,” Silva said. “They come out and pour their hearts out to you.”
Silva is a native Spanish speaker, so during his day off while in Florida, he told 8News that he went into the local Hispanic community to speak with them in Spanish and make sure they knew what resources were available to them.
“When I come back home, it’s nice to see the family,” Silva said. “You remember what you have and what they don’t have. We take things for granted until it’s all gone.”
The American Red Cross is continuing to accept monetary and blood donations to assist those impacted by Hurricane Ian. Click here for more information about the organization’s efforts.