July 31, 2012 9:40:58 AM
The day she lost everything was the day Denise Todd started giving back.
On a chilly Sunday morning in December of 1991, Todd's home in St. Louis, Mo., burned, with her 17-year-old daughter and 11-month-old granddaughter inside.
"My home caught fire," Todd recalls. "My daughter, granddaughter and I were at home. I was the only one to make it out.
"The Red Cross seemed to come out of nowhere," she recalls. "In the middle of all the chaos, the Red Cross was my calming point. The Red Cross lady came, got me and took me to an emergency response vehicle. She gave me hot coffee, put a nice warm blanket around me and took me inside the vehicle. She helped me escape."
Today, Todd is a volunteer coordinator and captain of the Disaster Action Team for the Northeast Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross. She attributes that role, in part, to the kindness of that volunteer whose name she never knew.
"In a way, she doesn't realize it, she saved my life,'' says Todd.
At the time of the fire, Todd had been struggling for depression for a year. The volunteer's support was instrumental in preventing the trauma of that tragic Sunday morning from plunging her into the depths of despair. "It was my belief she helped keep me from going back there," Todd says.
Through the American Red Cross, that volunteer not only helped her bury her daughter and grandchild, but provided clothing and other necessities to help her rebuild her life.
"If she hadn't helped that night, I don't believe I'd be sitting here," Todd says. "It means a lot for me to be able to help them. To me, it's a privilege. I won't say we owe it to the Red Cross, but, morally, I feel like I have a responsibility to help other people. The next person out there could be in the same condition I was in."
The Northeast Mississippi Chapter, like other chapters nationwide, is in dire need of volunteers.
Volunteers of all ages and any skill level are needed to serve with different projects, including fund-raisers and health fairs that are staples of the organization.
Additionally, volunteers are sought to help with disaster action teams, disaster health services, disaster planning, recruiting other volunteers. There is also a need for people to perform office duties and work at special events.
"We're looking for people who are compassionate about helping others," said Todd, noting volunteers who have shown dedication to other organizations and people who have been in situations where they needed services also are appreciated.
"That's one of the reasons I volunteer," she said. "I've been a Red Cross client, in the past. I think we're in a unique position to know what a person in that type of situation needs."
Volunteers will be trained by the American Red Cross and can volunteer around their schedules and according to their abilities.
"The main thing we need to do is get them trained and get them on our call list, so in an event we can call and say, 'Can you?'" Todd said. "The choice is always theirs."
Volunteering comes with many rewards, she noted.
"It's made me feel useful," Todd said. "I used to feel helpless. I was sitting there, watching and felt like I couldn't do anything. (The Red Cross) gave me a way to give back. This is my way of being able to do that. I can touch other people the way that person did who helped me."
"If time heals all wounds, why not use that time to help someone else to heal? The time will pass much faster. When you even give a little from the heart, it will mean a lot to someone whose world has been torn apart."
For more information or to volunteer, contact the Northeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, which is located in Columbus, at 662-328-5710.
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