by Carl Manning, American Red Cross Volunteer
The lunch rush is over and Paco Garcia, an American Red Cross volunteer from Butler, Pennsylvania, sits in the empty cafeteria thinking about how he has been able to help those staying at the evacuation center at Ridge View High School. He has set up cots with sleeping pads and blankets, served food, and answered questions -- lots of questions.
But most of all, he said with an impish grin, he has been listening. “It’s a very stressful situation for them. There are people who will go home and find they have a lot less than when they left to come here,” Paco said.
Pausing for a moment, he continued, “Listening – some think it’s a waste of time, but it’s not because you’re showing you care and for them, at a time like this, that is very important for them to know that somebody cares.”
Paco said his best asset is his infectious smile and a caring voice that can quickly build bridges of friendship between those needing help and those wanting to help. “They want to be home but they can’t. They’re here but they don’t know their surroundings,” he said. “They don’t know what awaits them, and they need people to talk to because they’ve never been down this road before.”
He said showing people arriving at the center that there are those who care about them goes a long way to make them feel better. “It may be a tense situation but if you have a smile in your voice and on your face, it helps bridge the gap,” he said. “I try to be welcoming and giving, but not a giver of false hope.”
Paco said he’s always wanted to be able to help people in need, but his work kept him from doing that. Now that he is retired, he jumped at the opportunity to take the road he had not yet taken.
While this is Paco’s first deployment, he doesn’t plan on it being his last. “I’ll be back. There will be another need and I want to be there to help,” he said before turning his attention to an approaching resident with a question.