Glen and Martha Harmon travel with the Red Cross to help with disaster recovery

Monday, December 3, 2012
Glen and Martha Harmon in front of a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle during Hurricane Isaac relief. (submitted photo)

Glen and Martha Harmon of Puxico, Mo., have seen their share of natural disasters. Since becoming Red Cross volunteers in 2005, they have been through hurricanes Katrina, Wilma, Rita and Isaac. They also helped out during the Missouri flooding in 2011.

"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.

(MELISSA MILLER) Martha Harmon of Puxico, Mo., a volunteer with the Southeast Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross, dishes up lunch plates aboard a mobile feeding truck during the 2011 flooding in Morehouse, Mo.

"When we came home from our Rhode Island trip, we came to Cape Girardeau and signed up as Red Cross volunteers," she says. "We took classes in Benton, Mo., and within three days we were called to volunteer. Less than a week later, we were sent to Beaumont, Texas, for hurricanes Wilma and Rita."

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.

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