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A personal journey to Isaac-battered Louisiana

Posted by Tom Cockley | Posted on September 21, 2012

I am always so pleased that the vision care professionals we deal with – our customers – are in the ”business” to help people.  Several years ago I decided to join the amazing corps of American Red Cross volunteers that mobilize to help people here and around the world, providing relief to victims of disasters.

Last week I returned from a 13-day Red Cross humanitarian journey and assignment in an area devastated by hurricane Isaac.  Andy, an ERV (Emergency Response Vehicle) coordinator, and I began our journey together in a fully outfitted ERV and arrived in the Baton Rouge headquarters two and a half days later.  Although I have been a trained volunteer with the Red Cross for several years, this was my first longer term, wide-spread disaster-assistance relief assignment.

Our trip to Baton Rouge was tumultuous.  There were trees down on many roads and some highways and roads were flooded out. Because we began our assignment early, we encountered and experienced some of the conditions that the people in Louisiana had to contend with during and just after the hurricane.  Case workers we helped reported seeing bodies and caskets scattered among the lawns and gardens in the area – you cannot imagine the devastation until you experience it first hard.

I was proud to be among the 1500 or so volunteers and over 100 ERVs from across the country that came to the area to work together.  And work we did – from before 7:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. or later each day  The 12 to 15 hours we worked seemed to  fly by — I found that there was always some task and coordination to do – and at times it was only our adrenaline that kept us going.  Initially we were assigned to set up kitchens to serve meals to the displaced people and shelter inhabitants.  At one point there were 36 shelters – a staggering number!  We were serving 36,800 hot meals each day and still were getting requests for an extra 500 meals here … an extra 1500 there.

The Red Cross recognizes volunteers that work hard, smart, and fast – certainly my experiences in business and in leading Gulden provided me with the skills to realize what had to be done … and then get it done.  My initial assignment was going to be an assistant kitchen manager, but by the end of the day I was designated to supervise six and then eight kitchens.  We had to coordinate and supply all kitchens with equipment, water, ice, snacks, and other supplies as well as coordinate and support the trailers, trash dumpsters, and other items. This was a huge undertaking – you can see me in the photo here in front of the boards and notes we used to track the logistics to keep things running smoothly.   Toward the end of our assignment we visited kitchens and headquarters at the Red Cross facility in New Orleans – what an amazing operation they run!

I wanted to make this once-in-a-lifetime experience count … for me and for the people we served.  I had several reactions and unanticipated surprises.  A lot of very nice people served as volunteers.  Everyone worked very hard.   – we made a lot of friends.

Usually I end my blog posts with information that can help you provide better patient care or enhance your practice.  In this post I would like to recommend two things that can help provide assistance for victims of disasters — I encourage you to find out how to volunteer for the Red Cross in your area by contacting your local office.  And please help or continue to help the Red Cross with your donations – which are very important to help serve the tens of thousands of people it helps.

Make a difference.  Volunteer.  Donate.

To find out more about volunteering or donating to the Red Cross, go to

Tell me what you think.

Be visionary with Gulden! 

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