What Do We Do Now?

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you had to recover from a devastating loss such as a home fire or a natural disaster like a flood or hurricane? 

What would you and your family do? After responders leave the scene, you would be faced with important questions to answer:  Where will we live? How will we take care of our children and pets? How will we
eat? What about clothing?

The enormity of the situation usually leaves people numb and disoriented. And it can feel like an impossible leap to go from nothing to normal, especially without help.  

But you would have help—through our Red Cross caseworkers. They stand in the gap to provide this necessary assistance after the first responders have gone.

Caseworkers don’t get visibility with the public the way our responders

Responders are our “boots on the ground” workers. They set up shelters
and provide meals after big disasters. They distribute comfort kits. Responders offer that first shoulder to lean on moments after a disaster happens.

In contrast, caseworkers do paperwork. They’re known for their attention to detail and quick reflexes using a mouse, not their ability to put up a shelter or feed hundreds of people.    

Nevertheless, casework is just as crucial. Without this important link between survivors and the resources they need to move forward, many people would remain stuck. Caseworkers become the lifeline people need for:

  • Medical services
  • Emergency stress management
  • Housing
  • Clothing
  • Hygiene items
  • Food
  • School supplies
  • Animal care
  • Used furniture
  • Veterans assistance

Caseworkers give people a Client Assistance Card, which has money loaded on it to be used as clients see fit. One person might need the money for bedding and transportation while another needs clothing and school supplies for children.

The card allows clients flexibility to use the money for what they need most after a disaster.  

Caseworkers also remind clients to suspend their billing for utilities, cable, and water and to halt mail delivery temporarily. Caseworkers help clients determine whether they need to contact other groups for assistance, such as the Social Security Office if a client is receiving benefits.

The Portland office has contact information for necessary services
and provides phone numbers for more than a dozen insurance companies.   Almost every job requires paperwork, even if the job is done outside and not on a computer. So why would anyone volunteer to do more
paperwork as a caseworker?

Arah Erickson said, “I’m glad I can help. Just being there for people in their moment of need and being able to help is gratifying.”  

Erickson saw firsthand how valuable this support is when she lived in New York City.  She worked in our Family Assistance Center just after 9/11. Erickson started as a manager for the
Translation Desk, a department that offers translation help in 50 languages.

She also escorted survivors through the building to help them find other
support agencies they needed. Her last role at the center was that of a

Since moving to Portland, Erickson has resumed her participation with
the Red Cross as a caseworker.

During a recent deployment to Samoa after Cyclone Gita, caseworker Theresa Grimes recalled how the Red Cross handled 1,350 cases during the three weeks she was there. People lined up outside the headquarters
building several hours before it was opened each morning. Samoa was hit with power outages, so the caseworkers had to use paper and pen to log information about people. They worked long hours, often up to 15 hours a day, trying to accommodate everyone.  

Grimes said, “It was wonderful to experience the Samoan culture. Despite the problems they were dealing with, they were so generous and kind. I saw the way they take care of their families. Several generations live in one house. And they have the utmost respect for everybody, especially their elders.”  

After a disaster, people will often express their gratitude to caseworkers for the help they receive from them and from the
responders. But Grimes never expected
the outpouring of thanks she and other caseworkers received while they were deployed in Samoa.   

It was quite a surprise to Grimes when the Talking Chief of one village presented her with his red-beaded necklace. Islanders in the meeting room noticed and started clapping. She was puzzled at first but then learned why everyone was clapping.  

“It was a distinct privilege,” said Grimes. “Only the Talking Chief wears this necklace, and it is never worn by a woman.” She added, “To me it is an honor to go out and help people who have been in a disaster of any kind. It has always been my honor and pleasure to help people.”  

Grimes echoes the sentiment of our other caseworkers. Without them,
the Red Cross couldn’t help people in need.

Although Samoa is still recovering from Cyclone Gita,
tourism (an important part of the island’s economy) is bouncing back.