For one, a fulfilling and life-changing experience

Local woman served the Red Cross in the wake of Hurricane Irma

Juli Hinson of Marshalltown recently spent two weeks volunteering in a shelter in Fort Myers, Florida helping those affected by Hurricane Irma. Hinson said this was her first experience volunteering with the American Red Cross, but it will not be her last

When news comes on the television chronicling the latest developments of a natural disaster, it’s human nature to want to help in some way.

“I was noticing all the storms in the news, first with Harvey. You sit on the couch and think ‘you have to do something.'”

These are the words of Marshalltonian Juli Hinson, who from Sept. 21-Oct. 5 was in Fort Meyers, Florida, volunteering in a large shelter as part of relief for those impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Hinson, who works part-time as a substitute teacher at GMG, went online to the American Red Cross’ website, and signed up to be a volunteer through its Des Moines branch. It was her first time ever volunteering for disaster relief and getting involved with the Red Cross.

“You apply and get interviewed, then go in for training,” she explained. “The process was very quick because I’ve already had a background check being an educator.”

Hinson was mustered into service on Sept. 11, and was sent to Fort Meyers on Sept. 21, just days after the storm had officially ended.

“I signed up during Hurricane Harvey and ended up being needed for Hurricane Irma,” she said. “When I got there, I could see local agriculture was pretty damaged, and there were trees down and still standing water in some places.”

She described life in the shelter as abuzz with constant activity, with large amounts of food being delivered and then handed out, with a strong presence from charitable agencies and mental health and medical entities.

“We worked 12-hour days, either 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.,” she said. “We worked hard, but it was worth it.”

Hinson helped distribute food and serve meals. She also spent time cleaning and talking with the folks displaced by the hurricane. She recalls helping the children get ready for school, as a bus came to the shelter each weekday to pick them up.

“I felt called to go. You develop these bonds with the clients and volunteers,” Hinson said. “I get emotional talking about it. You are in the midst of people who are hurting.”

Having lived for part of her life in Florida and North Carolina, the volunteer said she had first-hand experience dealing with hurricanes, and somewhat knew what to expect.

Hinson described the shelter as being a melting pot of volunteers from all over the country. Some people were retirees, while others took time off work at their own expense. Ninety percent of people who help with Red Cross disaster relief are volunteers.

“I was assigned to two weeks of service, and was told to take at least that amount of time off between deployments,” she noted.

The juxtaposition of her experience at the hurricane shelter with that of life in Central Iowa had a profound impact on her.

“You leave and come back a different person,” she said. “I just felt like everything was different.”

Hinson said her participation in the relief efforts has given her the desire to sign up again for service.

“I want to help others know the Red Cross is a great place to go if you want to help other people. But you don’t have to be deployed; there’s always a need locally as well,” she concluded.

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