Volunteer Spotlight: Remembering Pendleton, Flooding Inspires Locals into Action

Editors Note: April 6, 2020, marked the two month anniversary of the Umatilla County flooding. During this unique time, we just wanted to recognize all of the volunteers that supported this tremendous response.

Story by Julia Green / Red Cross Cascades

Early February, Umatilla County was hit with a vicious combination of snowmelt in the Blue Mountains and heavy rain, causing extreme flooding of the Umatilla River. As the water levels rose, the Red Cross converted the Pendleton Convention Center into a shelter for those forced out of their homes. Janet and her family were among those from the community who volunteered with the Red Cross in Pendleton during the flood. 

Umatilla County, 2020

It has been just over a year since Pendleton was hit with the flooding of McKay Creek last April. Janet described how last year, her home was safe but almost everyone on the opposite side of the street was impacted. Last year, Janet and her family spent hours sandbagging the streets, removing debris from homes, and driving around to help those in need. However, this year was different. Janet described, “In 3 hours, people went from dry ground to losing everything. The devastation was the hardest thing I’ve ever seen.” 

Janet described the community in Pendleton as extremely close-knit and like a family. As the floodwaters rose, residents of Pendleton had to hurry to get to safety and then wait until the water went back down. When the Red Cross arrived to help, they gave community members direction in what to do.

Janet and her husband have lived in Pendleton for 7 years with their 3 lovely children. Her husband, a Navy veteran, spent hours driving around with the kids pulling cars out of the mud and helping clear debris. Meanwhile, Janet’s job at the Pendleton prison allowed her to take half days so she could volunteer with the Red Cross in the afternoons. When asked why her family chose to volunteer, Janet said, “It was a no brainer.”

Janet assisting a local Pendleton resident, 2020.

 Like many, Janet had previously only thought of the Red Cross in terms of “blood and flood,” but had never seen them “in action” before. Janet, her son, and her husband are all avid blood donors; Janet even credits blood donations to saving her parent’s lives after a serious motorcycle accident. 

At first, Janet found her experience volunteering with the Red Cross to be overwhelming because of the amount of work to do. However, she found it to be very humbling as well as Janet and her family “did what needed to be done.”

“Hands-on assistance is a priceless gift,” reflected Janet. “My kids enjoy that kind of work.” Inspired by the relief efforts from last year’s flooding, Janet’s middle son has decided to join the Navy as a Seabee, or a member of the Naval Construction Force. 

Janet herself hopes to continue volunteering with the Red Cross either as a disaster responder or as disaster spiritual care, as she is nearing the last year of a 3-year ministry program. “My volunteering doesn’t stop with the floods,” said Janet. 

Janet delivering emergency relief supplies to local Pendleton residents, 2020.

Now, just under a month later, Umatilla County is still recovering from the extensive damage the flood left in its wake. The waters not only left mud, debris, and destruction but also an unbelievable financial burden on families who lost everything. “We have a long way to go as a community,” said Janet. “But there is hope. Pendleton comes together like I’ve never seen before.” 

 Janet has returned back to working full time as life continues on after the flood. However, Janet and her family are still working with church groups to help those in their community recover. “It’s a day to day effort,” said Janet. “We just do what needs to be done.”