"The plan is usually to have the Red Cross volunteers in place when the disaster hits, so we are usually deployed before a natural disaster strikes an area. We can't be much help if we are several hundred miles away when the disaster strikes," says Martha Harmon.
The Harmons' volunteer efforts for the Southeast Missouri Chapter of the Red Cross started while they were on vacation.
"My husband and I had both retired, and we were in Rhode Island on vacation when Hurricane Katrina hit. On the drive home, it seemed like we were both thinking the same thing at the same time," Martha says -- that they should become Red Cross volunteers. "I think a message was being sent from up above."
The shift from leisurely retirees to hardworking volunteers happened quickly for the couple.
The Harmons have done all sorts of volunteer work with the Red Cross, and have taken every class available so they can help wherever possible.
"We just go where we're needed and do whatever needs to be done. We have been instructors, we've done supervision, worked in shelters and worked with clients in all types of disasters, including victims of local fires," Harmon says.
The Harmons are also qualified to drive the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle. They've driven it all over the United States, including 4,000 miles during Hurricane Isaac this past year.
"If one of us goes, the other always goes, too. That's just how we do it," Martha says. "Whether you're helping just one person or a whole lot of people through a disaster, you always know that you're needed. Sometimes the person you're helping most might not even be directly affected by the disaster, but it may be another Red Cross volunteer who is having a rough time."
Red Cross volunteers also enjoy seeing each other and reconnecting, she says.
"We really are like a family," Martha says. "Glen and I can't wait to go out and see if we know some of the other Red Cross volunteers. When we see one another, it's like a family reunion.
The couple recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They have one daughter who lives in Advance, Mo. In addition to volunteering with the Red Cross, they are involved with Hands of Hope, a community center in Puxico that runs purely on donations to offer a youth center and food pantry.
On her work with the Red Cross, Martha Harmon's only wish is that she had volunteered sooner, and she encourages others to do just that.
"Had I known what all the Red Cross does and how many lives they touch when I was younger, I would have signed up a long time ago," she says.