ST. LOUIS – Nikki Smith knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of help from the American Red Cross. She lost everything she owned in a house fire last year. Smith was leading a team of walkers to raise money for the effort to end lupus last year when she received word her home in south St. Louis was a total loss.
“I literally had a Lupus t-shirt, some shorts, some tennis shoes, and that’s all that I owned that could be salvaged,” she said.
Smith said Red Cross volunteers showed her compassion and provided much-needed help during her time of need, comparing them to superheroes.
“It’s kind of like they get a little bat signal and they just come to your rescue,” she said.
Those superheroes are volunteers who are willing to respond at a moment’s notice. The American Red Cross of Missouri & Arkansas reports a spike in families needing help from volunteers due to fire disasters. The agency reports helping nearly 200 fire victims in the St. Louis area in just the past few weeks.
“Anytime the cold weather hits, that’s pretty typical to start to see more fires as people try to get more heat in the home and sometimes the heat sources are not necessarily safe,” said Sharon Watson, American Red Cross of Missouri & Arkansas Chief Communications Officer.
Watson said the Red Cross provides immediate financial assistance for victims allowing them to rent a hotel room for a few days and purchase food and clothes. The agency also provides mental health support and directs victims to other agencies that can provide long-term assistance. A caseworker is also assigned to follow up with each family.
Watson said the help victims receive is made possible thanks to donations and volunteers. Anyone wanting to undergo volunteer training can visit redcross.org to learn more information. Watson also wants area residents to know the Red Cross provides smoke detectors at no cost.
Smith was moved so much by the help she received she has since joined the board for the American Red Cross of Missouri & Arkansas.
“Because of what the Red Cross has done for me it made me more diligent and intentional about giving back and serving,” she said.