Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Sheely – deployed for Hurricane Katrina Relief in 2005
When a person retires, a void is often left within that person’s life. Regular routine is no longer guaranteed and some people begin to find more time for things they didn’t have time for when they were working. For Jim Sheely, after retiring as an air traffic controller, he was interested in giving back to the community. That was when Jim found the Red Cross.
Sheely has worn many hats as a Red Cross volunteer. His first volunteer effort with the Red Cross was with Service to the Armed Forces then he added Disaster Services to his resume. “I was ex-military and I was coming out of a government job, so that [Service to the Armed Forces] was a natural fit,” Sheely recalls. Again, his military background helped him to feel more comfortable in this role with the Red Cross. Sheely joined a Disaster Action Team and worked nights and weekends when he was not helping with military services.
For a short period of time, Sheely was the Disaster Action Team lead. He since has moved into Logistics.. When asked what logistics entails he responded, “it depends on whatever is needed.” Sheely leads a team of seven volunteers at the Charlotte Metro chapter that answers the calls of the surrounding chapters and helps to supply equipment they might need for disaster relief.
Sheely’s introduction into the world of logistics happened around the time of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When Louisiana was almost at capacity for sheltered people, the state started looking for outside assistance. The mayor of Charlotte welcomed around 400 individuals into the old coliseum that was off Tyvola Road. That shelter was open for a month. One week after the shelter closed, Sheely was deployed to Louisiana.
In Louisiana, Sheely started out by working in procurement which involves tracking disaster requisitions for supplies and equipment. “[Procurement] is a little different on every job. At that time, procurement was involved in tracking the disaster requisitions that other groups and activities would send in. Requisitions were supplies or equipment. We got requisitions for everything from a rat catcher to a water pump.”
The first week and a half of Sheely’s deployment he was in Covington, Louisiana, across Lake Ponchartrain from New Orleans, doing procurement. After Sheely was reassigned to bulk distribution, he was moved to Laplace, LA, just north of New Orleans where the warehouse was located. “Each day we drove several large box trucks to a church parking lot in a lake front neighborhood. The parking lot and the neighborhood around us had been flooded to the top of their doors.” The bulk distribution items Sheely and his team gave out included everything from mops, buckets and bleach to meal packages and ice coolers. “It was like a cafeteria line. They would get a bucket first, then we would give them one of whatever supplies we had that day. And as many as they needed for their family.”
Sheely painted a picture of some of the destruction he witnessed in Louisiana. “Another volunteer from Charlotte and I drove down the Mississippi River to the end of the road, Venice, LA, where the worst of the flooding was. There was a house in the middle of the highway. There were boats piled up. Caskets on top of the ground where they had floated up from the mud.”
When asked about the lasting impression this deployment to Louisiana had left on him, Sheely recalls the checkout process that occurs after a deployment. “You go from desk to desk, turning in vehicle keys and hotel keys. One of those desks is mental health. I took a pass on that. I was anxious to get out and I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. But it hit me when I had to change planes in Cincinnati. The terminal was full, the holidays were approaching. I was struck by the number of people and the bright colored lights. The noise. And the smell, or rather the absence of smell. It reminded me how without realizing it, I had become accustomed to the smell of New Orleans and to the grayness of New Orleans. When we drove South along the Mississippi, everything was very flat but when you looked to the horizon it looked as though there was a fence everywhere but it was really the height of the flood waters and how they had covered everything they touched in silt. There were no birds or bugs in Louisiana. No nature noises. You realized what you had been missing and what you had become accustomed to.”
The Red Cross is always looking for volunteers who can help in a time of need. If you are interested in learning how you can get involved, visit redcross.org/volunteer.
Authored by McKenna Estes, intern with the Western North Carolina Region communications department.