Iowa Red Cross volunteers helping survivors of Maui fire

DES MOINES — More than a half-dozen Iowans are now on the wildfire-ravaged Hawaiian island of Maui, helping survivors there recover from last week’s swift-moving fire. About a hundred people were killed in the fires and almost a thousand are still reported as missing.

Emily Holley, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Nebraska-Iowa Region, says seven Iowa volunteers are already on duty in Hawaii and several more are on standby.  “We have folks that have deployed from the Central Iowa chapter in Des Moines, we have folks that have deployed from Dubuque and other areas of the Eastern Iowa chapter,” Holley says. “Seven Iowans, that is a lot for one disaster, so, we’re so grateful that Iowans are willing to help our neighbors in Hawaii.”

Most of the Iowans who have been sent to Hawaii are working in emergency shelters, which will likely need to remain open for quite some time.  “That requires a lot of support from the Red Cross to make sure that those shelters are well equipped with everything that folks could need at this time,” Holley says. “A lot of them have lost everything and we want to make sure that they are getting a safe place to stay, food, and also comfort and the emotional support that is needed right now.”

That emotional support is just as valuable in some cases as the staples of nourishment and shelter. “We’ve actually deployed an Iowan who is a certified mental health counselor,” Holley says. “He is part of the mental health team that is helping folks cope with what is happening right now.” Given the distance, the Iowa volunteers are on a mandatory three-week deployment. While Hawaii is a long ways away, this isn’t the farthest Iowa Red Cross volunteers have been deployed in recent months, as the agency sent help from Iowa to Guam following a destructive typhoon in May. Holley says it’s gratifying how willing Iowans are to answer the call — and there are many ways to help.

“You don’t necessarily have to be able to deploy to disasters to be a volunteer with the American Red Cross,” Holley says. “If you only have a couple of hours a month, we have a place for you. If you are wanting to help folks recover from local disasters, we have a place for you. And if you’re willing to deploy, we have a place for you.”

Financial donations are also needed, by visiting the website, by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate 10-dollars, or by calling 1-800-HELP NOW.