By Bristel Minsker, Staff Contributor
When you think of the American Red Cross, what do you see? Perhaps it’s a volunteer like Antoney Elliot, or at least it should be.
Antoney is barely into his second year as a Red Cross volunteer in New York City. At home, he is a member of his local Red Cross Disaster Action Team, which responds to home and apartment fires all hours of the day and night, making sure that the displaced residents have a place to stay, food, clothing, health services and more.
In his “day job,” he is a minister; he teaches adult Sunday school and is a counselor for veterans at the Franklin Deleno Roosevelt VA Medical Center in Montrose, New York.
He deployed to Austin, Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey as a member of the Red Cross Spiritual Care team, which helps respond to the spiritual needs or request in shelters or in affected neighborhoods. He has been working in the Met Center shelter in South Austin, where several hundred evacuees sought refuge.
While working in the shelter, he began talking to a resident named Dana Watson. After evacuating the Houston home she shared with her sister and their children and staying in two different shelters in Central Texas, Dana was feeling frustrated and down.
Dana told Antoney that her sister was ready to go back to Houston with all of their children, while Dana wanted to stay in Austin and find resources to start fresh. Dana explained that living with her sister wasn’t working well even before Harvey, and their house had already flooded in 2016. She didn’t want to put her children through that again.
Because they were two separate families living under the same roof, Dana worried that the resources available per family from FEMA, the Red Cross and other agencies would only be available to her sister, who had already registered as the “head of household” for their address.
Dana felt as though her future was out of her hands. That’s when Antoney knew he could help.
“She was really down. I told her ‘let me be your advocate’,” said Antoney. And then they went to work.
In the days that followed, Antoney accompanied Dana, at her request, to visit various agencies in the Multi-Agency Resource Center next to the shelter.
He helped her work with FEMA to open her own case as a “head of household”, and he introduced her to a local group called Black Women in Business, which helps with resources needed to start a new job in the area. He also helped Dana get replacement birth certificates for her kids and connected her with a career coach that helped her put a resume together.
When a natural disaster strikes, the destruction impacts each family differently and the recovery process is like a puzzle – it takes many agencies and individuals working side by side. The process can be overwhelming for those that are trying to navigate it.
“Nothing about this is simple. Part of my role here is to anticipate someone’s individual needs and help them as best I can,” said Antoney.
While each Red Cross volunteer has their assigned role during a disaster response –whether it’s spiritual care, mobile feeding, sheltering, logistics, health services, or one of the dozens of other important jobs — each volunteer also understands that sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity and understanding to meet someone’s true needs. Through their training and experience, Red Cross volunteers work to provide vital relief and recovery while also convening the community and advocating for the people they are trying to help along the way.