Volunteering with the American Red Cross is a family affair for Don and Sandi Loftis.
While Don Loftis has been involved with the Red Cross since serving as a lifeguard at nearby Camp Cherokee, and currently serves as chairman of the board of the Hiwassee Chapter, Sandi Loftis has only been volunteering with the chapter for the past eight years.
In those eight years, she said she has come to realize even more just how important it is to help others in need.
She remembered back in 2004, when hurricane after hurricane struck Florida, where she had worked as a photographer. That same year, her daughter was graduating from high school locally.
“Don sort of pushed me along and said, ‘OK, you are done with your child rearing, now it’s time to do something in your community for your community,’” she said. “With that in mind, and knowing how the Red Cross was helping in Florida with hurricane recovery, I went to our local chapter office to see about volunteering.”
Much of her volunteer work now with the American Red Cross is in a public affairs role, utilizing her photography skills when necessary. When she began her training and then her volunteer work with the Red Cross, it was as a service provider.
Her first local volunteer work was following Hurricane Katrina when many from the Gulf Coast region fled the storms and ended up in Cleveland.
“We helped around 79 people who came to Cleveland and Bradley County from Hurricane Katrina,” she said.
Sandi Loftis was also able to travel to California where she worked as a volunteer in the call center there helping victims of Hurricane Katrina.
She has since been deployed to help victims of Hurricane Gustav, tornado victims in Middle Tennessee and flood victims in Nashville.
“While I was helping many in these areas, when the tornadoes struck here last April, it really, really hit home,” she remembered.
The Hiwassee Chapter was one of many service organizations in the area to provide assistance to the April 27, 2011, tornado survivors. The chapter set up canteen areas for emergency personnel, fed survivors and set up a shelter at St. Therese Catholic Church.
Mrs. Loftis said she had worked with victims of hurricanes, and now with tornado survivors, and saw that these two different types of storms were very much alike in the ways they devastate communities.
“There’s not much difference when you are standing there and looking at someone who has lost pretty much all that they own,” she said.
The Hiwassee Chapter continues to provide assistance to storm victims, including most recently working with those affected by the March 2 tornado.
That is just one area of volunteerism offered by the Hiwassee Chapter. Mrs. Loftis noted there are also opportunities to work with victims of home fires, and with armed forces servicemen and servicewomen and their families.
She smiled when she said it seems the calls she gets to provide help to victims of single-family home fires “always seem to be at 3 o’clock in the morning,” adding that it doesn’t matter what time she is called, she will be there. She stressed she knows these are people who need someone with them to not only provide assistance with a place to stay or a gift card so they can purchase clothing, but to be there for emotional support as well.
“You are always ready to go because you never know when a house fire will occur, and these people need help,” Mrs. Loftis said. “It takes me five minutes to get ready to go … I may show up in two different shoes, but I will be there.”
Working with the armed forces is another way the American Red Cross helps others, and Mrs. Loftis said that it is equally rewarding to serve in this way.
“I had a gentleman call me one night and he said that he had heard that his son and another person’s son had been injured in Iraq,” she offered, “I said we can do a ‘Safe and Well’ verification and I will let you know what I find out.”
Mrs. Loftis said she was able to call the father back soon and tell him his son was OK, and his son was also able to call him and let him know he was OK.
“About two months later, I got a call and it said please let a particular serviceman know that his baby boy has been born,” she said. “I was so excited because it was the same serviceman who I was now calling to let him know about his brand new son.”
Mrs. Loftis said that volunteering is rewarding because there is always someone who touches her heart. In one instance, a little girl who was a tornado survivor came up to Mrs. Loftis and wanted to share her M&Ms with her.
“A UPS driver got my camera and took a picture of me and the little girl hugging, and it went national,” she said proudly.
Mrs. Loftis said there are many opportunities to volunteer all across Bradley County. She suggested finding a program that addresses a person’s interest and trying to help.
“Call us at the Red Cross and see about volunteering here,” she noted. “We can set you up with the training you will need. Believe me, you will get a great reward from helping others. You may go to bed tired, but you will go to sleep with a full heart.”