KOUNTZE, Texas — As Hurricane Laura batters communities on the Gulf Coast, volunteers from across the county are traveling south to lend a hand in evacuation shelters. Among those are volunteers from the Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming.
A group of 23 total volunteers from the chapter are stationed at various shelters across Texas and Louisiana, and more are ready to deploy at a moment's notice. This year, their work is a little bit different; new COVID-19 protocols are changing how volunteers can help.
This trip is not the first hurricane relief mission chapter volunteer Sylvia Raumaker has been a part of, but she said the circumstances make it unique.
"It's a really different environment, but they've taken steps to protect this as best they can," Raumaker said. "And as long as we follow the safety guidelines that they have given us. I believe that we will be safe."
> In the video below from August 29, 9NEWS reporter Sonia Gutierrez catches with Colorado Task Force 1, which is assisting with Hurricane Laura clean-up in Louisiana:
Each volunteer participated in a new round of training that went over the new protocols and new ways to help evacuees. Precautionary steps include social distancing while walking around shelters, keeping cots ten feet apart, and requiring masks at all times while inside.
But Raumaker said those guidelines don't help with the most important part of hurricane relief missions - providing comfort.
"The biggest thing is that I cannot get close enough to give somebody a hug, who really badly needs one," Raumaker said. "Just putting a smile on someone's face by giving them a hug, is taken away from us. So we talk to them, six feet away and we try to make them feel comfortable, trying to make them feel well, and try to get a smile through the masks. You know, we just have to work a little bit harder, it can be done."
Raumaker and her team of four arrived at a shelter in Kountze, Texas last Monday, but will move around the impacted area as needed for about two weeks. The work each of the volunteers will do over the next few weeks outweighs any additional risks and challenges COVID-19 presents this hurricane season.
"I feel really good about the people's lives I have touched," Raumaker said. "You can't buy it, it's a wonderful feeling. And I believe that my team members feel the same way. This is why we volunteer."
SUGGESTED VIDEOS: COVID-19 Coronavirus