The University Record, October 26, 1992

Disaster team volunteer enjoys working with people

By Rebecca A. Doyle

“Up here [in the North] when people think of the Red Cross, they think of giving blood. Down in the South, they think of disasters,” says Damaris Sufalko, a disaster action team leader for the Washte-naw County chapter of the American Red Cross.

But the disaster action team helps victims of floods, fire, gas main leaks and traffic accidents, such as the 50-car pile-up on US-23 a few weeks ago, as well as victims of Florida’s hurricane Andrew.

“We try to help them in whatever way we can,” Sufalko says. “We provide food, clothing, shelter, support and just listen to them if they need to talk.”

Sufalko is a full-time research assistant in psychiatry and devotes approximately 40 hours per month to Red Cross training, classes and meetings.

“It makes me feel good that I can do something to help somebody else,” she explains. “We can provide shelter and food and emergency assistance for up to three days, until they can find something.”

Sufalko says that volunteering for the Red Cross has helped her learn more about herself.

“I learned that I wasn’t that much of a ‘people person’ before,” she says. “I had to learn how to work with people, and how to encourage volunteers so that they can do their jobs to the best of their ability. It has been a really good experience.”

Washtenaw County Red Cross Executive Director Charles Moertel thinks Sufalko has been good for the disaster action program.

“Damaris is one of those people who is there when she is needed,” he says. Sufalko was called to the scene when more than 50 cars recently piled up on US-23 during heavy morning traffic in fog. Most victims who were not badly injured stayed with their cars and the disaster team provided food, hot drinks and a shoulder to lean on.

“Disasters are situations you have no control over,” Moertel says. “You couldn’t stop what was going to happen. Sometimes people just don’t know how to react. One of the things our volunteers do is just listen. Sometimes all it takes is having someone just sit down and tell people it is all right to feel angry, so they can start to deal with it.”

Recent recruiting has netted the disaster action team 14 new members, bringing the total to about 25 people—enough for two teams, Sufalko says. And although it is quiet right now, and there have not been many area disasters to deal with recently, it is important to be ready.

“It’s slow now. But when it gets slow, something big is usually going to happen. We have to be ready.”

The Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Red Cross is one of more than 100 agencies supported by the Washtenaw United Way. As of Oct. 16, employee contributions and pledges to United Way totaled $545,833 against a goal of $900,000. The campaign ends Nov. 4.