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Red Cross DOVEs provide Katrina disaster relief

Mar 1, 2006

“Here come Bunnie and Dean,” announced Joe Majors. “Bunnie always blows the air horn on the American Red Cross truck when they come through our neighborhood with hot meals, water and ice. All of us on the street who have returned home to rebuild after Katrina come out to meet them. They care about us and are just like our neighbors.”

Bunnie and Dean Morgensen, Red Cross volunteers from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, have been driving Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) and helping feed Hurricane Katrina victims for three months, since November 3 when they deployed to Baton Rouge. Since then, except for a short break at Christmas, they have been tirelessly carrying out their assignment at mass feeding centers in Lake Charles, Covington, and finally the New Orleans area.

“The normal tour is three weeks, but we just kept extending our assignment,” said Bunnie. “These people here have suffered so much from the hurricane, and they still need the help that we and the Red Cross can provide. We’re retired and are able to take the time, so we have stayed on the job.” Even when Bunnie had to take five days of family emergency leave in January when her mother and aunt died, Dean stayed on the job. And Bunnie came back to work with him right after the funerals.

The Morgensen’s are special volunteers, not only in their dedication to their duty and the Red Cross mission to help those who are in need, but also in the way that they travel to their assignments. They drove their 32’ Winnebago Venture motor home from Oklahoma to Louisiana, and have lived in it for much of the time they have been on their Red Cross assignment.

Disaster Operations Volunteer Escapees

“We belong to the DOVEs (Disaster Operations Volunteer Escapees), one of the 50 “Birds of a Feather” (BoF) special interest groups of the national Escapees RV club,” said Dean, showing his DOVEs – BoF name tag. The DOVEs are all trained members of American Red Cross Disaster Services who have the ability to volunteer on extended assignments. Like the Morgensen’s many of the DOVEs are retired and spend extended periods traveling around the country in their RVs. They often find themselves in areas where the local Red Cross Chapter is responding to a disaster, and offer their services either as Chapter members or as Local Disaster Volunteers (LDVs).

Under an August 2005 Statement of Understanding between the DOVEs and the American Red Cross, the DOVEs actively recruit Escapees RV Club members for Red Cross Disaster Services, assist DOVEs members in getting trained as Red Cross disaster operations volunteers, and provide volunteer assistance to the Red Cross whenever and wherever practical, both at individual chapters and at national DRs. With certain conditions, the Red Cross authorizes DOVEs members to travel to disaster relief efforts in their RVs and, when travel expense assistance is authorized, will reimburse DOVEs members mileage costs up to the amount that they would have been eligible for had they flown via World Travel/BTI.

“We have over 460 active members of our group,” said DOVEs President Scott Bonis. “During the 2005 hurricane season almost 175 of them responded and were on Red Cross disaster relief assignments. Also, there were somewhat over 100 who responded during the 2004 hurricane season.”

He explained that the Escapees RV Club was founded in 1978 and has 70,000 active members and 50 geographical chapters. There are also 50 BoF groups within the Escapees, of which the DOVEs is one. The DOVEs were formed shortly after 9/11. DOVEs are unique in that they respond to a disaster relief operation with their own transportation and their own housing. They are self sufficient with housing and food for several days at a disaster, and are mostly mature adults accustomed to working and living independently, while being trained to function as Red Cross volunteers.

“The Escapees RV Club has two national “Escapades”, or annual rallies, each attended typically by 2,000 RVers,” Bonis said. “At our spring Escapade in Chico, California in April we will offer eleven Red Cross disaster courses and will work to recruit new members to the DOVEs. Several of us are certified trainers, and we conduct most of the training ourselves but include, of course, any other interested Red Cross volunteers. We are not a chapter but rather a support group for Red Cross volunteers who happen to be also RVers.”

He added that they invite new members with the promise: “Join the Red Cross and visit exotic locations at non-exotic times.”

Personal Care and Giving

The areas of East New Orleans where the Morgensen’s have been working are some of the hardest hit by Katrina in Louisiana. There is widespread destruction. Residents are now returning to their homes, and the Morgensen’s have been there to help.

Bunnie and Dean Morgensen have strong beliefs in the value of the personal care and love that they give to the hurricane victims they work with. “The people along our ERV routes are just like our family,” said Bunnie. “We have come to know and care about each of them, and, like a good neighbor, we check on them as we go through their neighborhoods to make sure that they are OK.” They often alert Red Cross mental health and health services staff when there is a family or individual who might benefit from these additional Red Cross services.

While the DOVEs are a non-sectarian group, the Morgensen’s believe that they are doing God’s work in caring for others. Their Oklahoma license plate reads: “I Let God” as a testimony to their faith. ERV work is physically and emotionally demanding, and the days are long. It is usually so hot inside the ERV that the sweat rolls down your brow. You wouldn’t know to look at them that Dean had his 80th birthday in March and Bunnie turned 69 in February. They are both spry and enthusiastic and the years haven’t slowed them down any.

“We will continue to help others as long as we are able and God lets us,” she said. “It is not about our age but the love in our hearts.”

And for the many who they have helped along the way, we hope that the Morgensen’s and the DOVEs continue their good work for many more years.