Red Cross staff member returns to western Virginia after joining disaster response in Hawaii

Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 6:38 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Danielle Englund is back with her family,

We spoke with her from her home near Lynchburg, where she’s decompressing after three weeks with the American Red Cross disaster response in Hawaii.

“My family sacrificed a lot for me to be able to go, and I’m very grateful for them and the fact they support not only me and my job, but also understand that what I do matters,” she told WDBJ7.

When Englund left the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport in mid-August, she described her job as “HR for disaster response.” And while she was in Maui, she worked to find places where volunteers could serve, such as staffing shelters, driving shuttles or making emergency deliveries.

“We had 6,000 people on that island who volunteered to help,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.

The response was unlike anything she had experienced.

“Our shift fill rate is usually around 30 to 35%, which means we have enough volunteers to fill 30 to 35% of what we’re asking people to do,” Englund said. “In this case, we had a 98% fill rate for the majority of the time that I was there, because we just had so many people who were vying for the same slots. And that really was outrageous, I mean in a positive way.”

Despite the massive destruction in Maui, and the recovery that will require a long-term response, there are signs of progress.

More than 4,000 people have moved from congregate shelters into hotels. And basic services including electricity and telecommunications have been restored to most of the island.

Red Cross staffers are staying in temporary shelters.

Englund was housed at a Boy Scout Camp, and commuted to the shopping mall where the Red Cross established its headquarters in a former Forever 21 store.

She says everyone should volunteer for a disaster response at least once, because it’s a life-changing experience.

“Unfortunately, disasters never stop and they seem to be getting more and more frequent, which is why we need more and more volunteers who are willing and able to go and are willing and able to get trained before the fact, so they’re on standby when things like this happen,” Englund said. “Because as we said, the Maui response is going to continue, but then now we have new ones that continue to pop up as well. And we need people who are able to go to a lot of different places.”

Englund wasn’t the only Red Cross staffer from Virginia working in Maui. There were several. And Englund says others are now scattered across the country, responding to disasters in Florida, Mississippi, Washington State, northern California and other locations.