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November 17, 2017

It Could Have Been Me

“It Could Have Been Me”

The Red Cross Multi-Agency Resource Center provides economic and emotional support for the journey to recovery.

Story and Photo credit by Michele Maki, American Red Cross

“It could have been me.” These sentiments were repeated over and over in a variety of words and expressions Friday afternoon as residents from the tragic apartment fire in Plymouth, Wisconsin arrived at Redeemer Lutheran Church to begin their journey to recovery.  The American Red Cross of Northeastern Wisconsin partnered with several local agencies and non-profits to offer services and guidance at a “one stop shop” – the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) set up at the church. 

About a dozen families were displaced by an early morning fire early Thursday morning.  These families lost everything, including a fellow neighbor. Just a few hours before the MARC opened, the local news stations reported confirmation that body recovered from the blaze had positively been identified as their neighbor, something the residents all had suspected. Still, it was a shock. “I knew her….she was such a nice lady. My God, it could have been me,” a resident shared. “I was asleep. I heard no alarm. It was the firemen who woke me up.”  The resident, picking nervously at her scarf, looked up, tears filling her eyes and slowly finished, “It…….could have been me.  It could….”  Her voice cracked.  This resident, still in shock and overcome with the growing reality of what had happened, shut down. Tears flowed.  She didn’t give her name. It was very apparent, she needed to process everything that had happened in the last 24 hours. Now was not the time to share her experience with a stranger. It was just too much.

“This reaction is absolutely normal for this kind of situation that is anything but normal.” Julie Holly, Lead Mental Health Volunteer for the Red Cross explained. “They’re in shock and they’re numb.” Her eyes scan the room as it fills with the survivors.  Many are overheard sharing with one another the sorrow of losing their neighbor and their own losses.  The reality of it was almost too much for some.  “Their brains cannot possibly process all of this: the shock, the grief and then to navigate through the maze of practical needs for today and tomorrow: replacing identification, where to live, food, money……..” Holly explained.  “It’s too much, and that is why we do this and why we are here.  We try to make this process-the navigation through the practical stuff, a little easier. This, in turn, helps with the emotional support.  The emotional support is just as important as the economic support.  You need both. ” Holly added, “The Red Cross does a good job in remembering this because for these folks, this has to be just about the worst day of their lives. This is all part of our mission: to alleviate suffering.”

As the residents chat with caseworkers and are lead to different tables where other agencies can assist them with the practical matters such as replacing identification, short term financial assistance, clothing, and referrals to additional resources, Holly prepares to leave and meet with one family. “We help them place one foot in front of the other.  It’s a start in a long journey to recovery.”  As Holly looks over to a couple across the room, she gives them a nod of her head, turns back around and with compassionate eyes and a small, hopeful smile finishes, “It’s truly an honor to hold space with them.”


The American Red Cross of Northeastern Wisconsin is a Partner Agency of United Way of Sheboygan County. Visit www.uwofsc.org to learn more. 

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