How one couple had a hand in 2017's worst national disasters
LANE COUNTY, Ore. - As we start off the new year, first responders are gearing up for a new year of challenges.
Looking back, from hurricane relief to emergency wildfire shelter, 2017 was the busiest year in recent memory for the American Red Cross.
Our local chapter, the Red Cross Cascades Region, responded to 764 disasters last year, both in Oregon and across the country.
We saw back-to-back hurricanes, the deadliest week of wildfires in California history, and the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. To these and others, our local Red Cross sent four times the number of responders compared to 2016 in order to meet the need.
Cathy and Mike Olson started volunteering just in time for one of the busiest years the American Red Cross has ever seen. The Olsons responded to Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys, the Chetco Bar Fire in Southern Oregon and another wildfire in the McKenzie River area.
"You get up every day, you work your twelve-hour shift, you put a smile on your face and the next day you go out and try to help people again," said the Olsons.
The numbers are huge -- across the country, the Red Cross helped 624,000 households, more than 10-times the size of Eugene.
"We have a home to come back to, and the people we're helping do not," said the Olsons. "Many times they're completely homeless and don't have even the basic necessities of life."
That's where volunteers come in on two-week rotations to provide shelter, water, food, medical care and anything else. The Olsons say in this busy year, they feel live they've made a difference.
"It was very hard on the people, and they were desperate for help to try to put their lives back together," said the Olsons. "And it was just such a small token of what we could do to help. You just felt like y ou wish you could do more."
For the Olsons, it's a job that's never done, but they still get up every day, on standby for those who could need their help at any minute.
The Olsons are now waiting for another possible deployment, this time to Puerto Rico, still recovering from Hurricane Irma.