A man in a wheel chair, who did not wish to be identified, leaves evacuation shelter from hurricane Harvey in San Antonio Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.

Credit: LM Otero/AP

Massachusetts Red Cross Volunteer Staffs Texas Shelter After Harvey

August 29, 2017

Mark Herz: This is 89.7 WGBH, I'm Mark Herz. With more and more people being displaced as the flooding from Harvey continues, safe shelters are essential. And it's volunteers from around the country who are manning those shelters, like the Red Cross' Mark Cook. He's from Lakeville, Massachusetts, and he's in Texas giving aid and lending comfort. It's his fourth time helping flood victims in the past few years. Mark is on the line with us now from a shelter in San Antonio, where some of those fleeing the Houston area have sought help. Welcome, Mark.

Mark Cook: Good afternoon, Mark. How are you?

Herz: Good, good. So you just started your 14-day deployment – what are you seeing? What are you hearing?

Cook: Right now, we're waiting on about 156 buses to bring in folks from Houston down here to San Antonio for shelter.

Herz: What do people need most when they show up at the shelter you're at?

Cook: A lot of the folks that are here right now are asking for clothing.

Herz: What's the hardest thing for people right now when they arrive at the shelter? What are you finding?

Cook: Being away from other family members and being away from their pets.

Herz: And so who's in the shelter – families?

Cook: We have several families here now and we probably have about 40 individuals. And that's expected to change during the day today. They're expecting to fill this 2,800-bed shelter within the next 24 hours.

Herz: And how long will most people be in the shelter? Do we know?

Cook: We don't know. What they're saying now – what I'm hearing from different sources is, you know, this event ... may last for months. It's to that extent right now, it's going to be a very, very long recovery.

Herz: And what's it like Mark Cook – I mean, if a similar storm hit Boston, say, and I had to go to a Red Cross shelter, how would I know where to go and what would I find when I got there?

Cook: You'd probably find out through the state National Guard or the state emergency management agencies where to go, what shelters to go to. There are highway signs giving directions to all the shelters. Once they get here, what they'll do is they'll register, they'll be assigned to a place where they are going to sleep – the men and women sleep separately. The women and children have a separate area of the shelter. When they get here ... they'll be assigned a bed, they'll get a blanket, they'll get some hygiene items, they'll get a pillow, and they'll set up their family the best they can here.

Herz: Why do this? Why go into maybe even a dangerous or a stressful situation?

Cook: Well, because they need the help. They need the help. There's no way that the agencies down here alone can handle this this type of disaster. They need the support of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other places. And I do it because they need the help, and because it's just another way to make a difference in this world – you know, that's the only reason I do this. It's all about loving and caring for your brothers and sisters. I mean, we're all brothers and sisters ... no matter what.

Herz: When you say that, when you talk about the kind of comfort you give people and the connection you're making with people, I mean, it's more than just feeding people and trying to see to their physical needs. I guess there's a special connection there?

Cook: There is a special connection, and we want to make sure that everybody that comes in gets the things that they need, whether it be medical care, mental health services, whatever it is they need. We want to make them feel comfortable, we want to make them feel like they're cared for, and that's our No. 1 priority right now, is to make these people feel comfortable. They're going through a very, very stressful situation right now.

The way I look at things, you know, they’re not only displaced folks, they're not only clients, you know, it does get personal. You know, sometimes I'll work and when I go back to the hotel later on or wherever I'm lodging, you know, sometimes I will cry over something that I've heard during the day. You know, I'll do that. I'll sit, I'll cry, I'll go in refreshed the next day.

Herz: OK, thanks for joining us, Mark.

Cook: No problem. Thank you, Mark. I appreciate it.

Herz: That's Mark Cook of Lakeville, Massachusetts. He's with the Red Cross, manning a shelter in San Antonio, Texas where those fleeing the Houston area are staying. This is All Things Considered.

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