Volunteer for disasters

Karen Libbert of the Heart of Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Karen Libbert of the Heart of Missouri Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Karen Libbert got involved with the American Red Cross in 2003, when she was still working in state government.

“I wondered what I would do after retiring,” she said. “I filled out an application and started taking classes because I knew the Red Cross was involved in helping people and that was just appealing to me.”

Libbert had volunteered at other places like the Runge Nature Center and Special Olympics and still volunteers at Camp Quality, which works with burned children.

It was just a few months after she retired when in August 2005 that Hurricane Katrina hit and she was deployed to help.

“I was scared to death,” she said. “I went to Jackson, Miss., where the homeless were coming to. I worked in shelters and, my gosh — my first national deployment — I ran the shelter.”

A few months after Katrina, Libbert went to help after Hurricane Wilma hit Florida. She came back to Central Missouri and started working at local disasters like house fires, but in July 2006 went to Pennsylvania to help in the recovery after major flooding hit that area.

Since then Libbert started becoming more involved in helping when local disasters hit.

She’s part of the Disaster Action Team (DAT).

“You respond to local fires, tornadoes, ice storms, wherever people need assistance,” she said. “Our Heart of Missouri chapter has 21 counties. We assess damage, meet with people and give them immediate needs like clothing, food and shelter. With DAT you wear several hats: drive response vehicles, assist with distributing food, etc.”

Libbert now teaches disaster preparedness classes to potential volunteers.

“The whole concept of volunteering is being a team,” she said. “I feel like I’m just part of what volunteers do and get in and work with the team. I may have more of managing capabilities, but I don’t expect the team to do more than what I can do.”

Recently members of the chapter’s board of directors have been joining volunteers and staff when they are called to respond to local disasters. Libbert said they wanting to see who they are helping and who they’re raising funds for.

“A few weeks ago we went to a fire at the home of a mother with five children,” she said. “We watched the home burn and to read about a story like this in the paper is not like being there. We can hug and touch the victims, and let them know someone cares for them. We all blend together.”

Libbert said she doesn’t know how many people she’s met who didn’t know the Red Cross responded to single-family fires.

“They were surprised,” she said. “We have set guidelines we go by, but we do what we can to assist in their recovery. The mother I talked about earlier was in shock seeing her home burn and in Callaway County we were there to give comfort to a family with a son who’s deaf and lost their home in a fire. He was devastated. His security was gone.”

Libbert has no regrets from the nearly 10 years she has spent with the Red Cross.

“Eighteen months ago one of my sons was killed in boating accident,” she said. “I didn’t volunteer for a year after that to take time for me and my grandkids, but the days get easier being able to do this work. My purpose is to help people, and I know I’m involved with a good team here.”

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