Volunteer heals from personal loss by helping others in need

By Eilene Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

September 16, 2020- Debbie Levison is filling monumental holes in her life – the loss of her husband to COVID-19, the end of her career – the best way she knows: Caring for others.

“I know I don’t really know what I’m getting into, but I’m looking forward to it,” she said, the day before flying to Oregon to help the American Red Cross provide shelter for tens of thousands fleeing historic wildfires.

Debbie Levison

Debbie readily admits 2020 has been a tough year for her. While her husband of 36 years struggled alone in a hospital against the virus that would take his life, she battled the same disease for a month at home, alone. When she recovered, she couldn’t bring herself to go back to her pharmacy job in the hospital where Bruce died, so she retired.

After a month of cleaning out closets, with family and friends sheltering in place elsewhere, “I realized I needed to do something; the walls were closing in on me.”

So Debbie turned to an organization she had long admired. “I always believed in the Red Cross. I believe in their mission.”

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do; she started with a variety of online classes and – given her background in the medical field – chose blood services. She checks prospective donors’ temperatures, helps them check in, sanitizes surfaces and generally watches to be sure donors are feeling well after giving blood.

Debbie Levison (center) during her deployment to assist with the Oregon wildfires relief effort

In fact, having recovered from COVID herself, she has twice donated her blood with “convalescent plasma,” which may give a boost to those fighting the virus.

Next, she took training to join a Red Cross disaster action team, to help those displaced by home fires and other local disasters. On her very first call, she was struck by how much that Red Cross aid was a comfort to someone who had lost their home.

As natural disasters piled up across the United States – Hurricane Laura, the Midwest derecho, wildfires across the west – Debbie felt the pull, and the ability, to deploy in person. Once again, she turned to online training, specifically to help with sheltering evacuees in the COVID environment.

Headed for the west, she admitted to being in awe of the challenge. “The governor of Oregon said there might be as many as 60,000 people who would need shelter. That’s a lot of people,” to find housing for.

But she’s undaunted. “It has really given me a purpose,” she said. “It’s a very worthy mission.”

More than 5,000 Red Crossers are currently working to provide food, shelter, comfort and support to people dealing with major disasters across the country. And more will be needed to help those impacted by Hurricane Sally and whatever natural or manmade disasters follow.

You can help.

  • To make this humanitarian work possible, make a donation by visiting redcross.org, calling 800-RED-CROSS or texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • If you are able to give time, review our most urgently needed volunteer positions at redcross.org/volunteertoday. Training is free and protocols are in place to keep both our responders and our clients safe.

Help sustain the nation’s blood supply by going to redcrossblood.org to find a blood drive near you. The Red Cross can move lifesaving blood around the country safely to wherever and whenever it’s needed most, even in the pandemic environment. Blood donations are now being tested for COVID antibodies, so donors can learn if they’ve had the infection.

If you are in good health and you are willing and able to receive free Red Cross training and can deploy, you are invited to attend one of the upcoming virtual volunteer information session on Friday, September 18 or Saturday, September 19. Both sessions will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. For more information and to register, email Melanie Collins at melanie.collins4@redcross.org or call 330-204-6615.

Editor’s note: Debbie Levison is currently deployed to the Oregon wildfire disaster relief operation, her first national assignment. She worked 12 hours shifts on Monday and Tuesday this week, helping displaced residents in need of shelter settle into hotel rooms.

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