MAPE member deploys with Red Cross to Fort Myers

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Member Marcia Beukelman in Fort Meyers to help after hurricane damage

While many people were preparing for the holidays last month, Marcia Beukelman was deploying with the American Red Cross to Fort Myers, Florida to help victims of Hurricane Ian who were still recovering and rebuilding from the devastating damage in southwest Florida.

Beukelman, who is an accountant at Southwest Minnesota State University and a member of MAPE Local 1801, said her coworker, who had completed multiple deployments with the Red Cross, inspired her to volunteer. A Minnesota statute allowing state employees up to 15 paid days a year for specialized disaster relief services through the American Red Cross meant Beukelman could take paid time off to volunteer.

“It was one of those impulse things,” Beukelman said about volunteering. “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

After completing all the background checks and training, Beukelman marked herself “available” in the disaster response system and two days later received a call asking if she’d assist in the recovery phase of disaster response in Fort Myers, Florida.

For two weeks, she was an ambassador doing everything from client intake at outreach centers to door-to-door outreach with a disaster assessment team.

“When people stopped coming into the outreach center, we went mobile, splitting into teams of three or four and going out to addresses marked major damage or destroyed,” she said. “We’d go to these mobile home courts and if there was a house to knock on, we’d visit. We’d open a case and give them some funds for basic necessities. They were so happy to have someone come and talk to them.”

Beukelman teamed up with two seasoned ambassadors. Dubbing themselves the “dream team,” they hit hundreds of addresses in their two weeks serving together and leaned on one another when the devastation became too much to bear.

Hurricane damage in Fort Meyers

“What touched me the most was to connect with so many people from so many walks of life all there for the same reason - to help people. Our big focus was always to make connections with residents and make sure they’re mentally and spiritually OK,” she said. “But some of these people had nothing left. It was heartbreaking to see the way people were living in these homes with peeled back roofs, water running down walls, squishy subfloors.”

During her deployment, Beukelman chronicled her experience on Facebook, sharing pictures of hurricane damage, her fellow ambassadors, and residents they helped along the way. Reflecting on her deployment is hard, but worth it, she says.

“This was truly an unforgettable experience,” Beukelman said. “Something moved me to sign up with the Red Cross that day. I’m emotionally drained right now, but I hope to do it again. People keep saying, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this.’ I tell them to just ‘Do it.’ We each do what we can do and that’s our reward enough.”