When you enter the front door of the American Red Cross Disaster Service office in Springfield, MO, you will always be greeted by the friendly smile and warm welcome of a Red Cross volunteer. These volunteers give a whole day, or several hours each week, and are the voice and face of the Red Cross in our community. As an organization that is 97 percent volunteers, this is just one of many ways people can support the vital work of humanitarianism.
As I stopped to say hello to Gerald, a familiar face, I noticed a brand new smile sitting at the desk next to him. I introduced myself and was pleasantly surprised to find out this was merely a reunion. As we chatted, Bonnie and I realized we had met several years back when she and I both volunteered here during the response to the devastating Joplin tornado in 2011. As we continued to catch up, Bonnie shared with me her Red Cross story and agreed to let me share it with you.
“I volunteer with Red Cross in honor of my late husband of 32 years” said Bonnie. Bob Mantlo was serving his country with the United Sates military in Germany when his father became terminally ill back in Missouri. Bob’s family was uncertain about reaching him overseas to let him know about the change in his father’s health. Fortunately, Bob’s sister called the American Red Cross who sent an emergency message to Bob’s commanding officer and Bob was released from duty to return home immediately, arriving in Missouri just before his father passed away.
Bonnie didn’t know Bob when he had his experience with the Red Cross and the Service to Armed Forces volunteers who helped him through his loss. What she did know was when Bob talked about his desire to volunteer with the Red Cross it was because of the gift he had been given many years ago. The Red Cross gave Bob the gift of time and memories that were created during the week he spent at his father’s bedside before he passed. If not for the emergency call from the Red Cross, Bob would have been unable to say those last goodbyes and have those precious last memories.
Bob wasn’t able to fulfill his wish to help others the way he had once been helped, so Bonnie now volunteers her time. It’s her way of giving back to others what was given a soldier whose life was touched so deeply all those years ago. “I love the people here and I am so thankful for them” Bonnie says. And we are so thankful for you, Bonnie. Volunteers are the heart of the American Red Cross and if not for people who choose to give, there would be soldiers today who wouldn’t receive the gift that was once given to Bob and his family. Thank you Bonnie for being the gift Bob never knew he was giving us.
Every day, soldiers and families like Bob and Bonnie are connected through Red Cross emergency communications. Volunteers are providing the gift of last goodbyes and new beginnings as calls are made to bring a soldier home for a family death or the birth of a child. These connections, and many others, change lives. The American Red Cross is proud to support the men and women who give so much as they protect and serve our country.
Story and photo by: Nigel Holderby, American Red Cross