One can’t help but be moved by the quiet and unassuming miracle that is Red Cross House – the one-of-a-kind short term disaster recovery center that graces University City, on the corner of 40th Street and Powelton Avenue. Although I’ve been volunteering in the Public Affairs Department for more than a year, Tuesday was my first visit to the House. Our group of employees and volunteers was there to help serve lunch to the residents.
After a tour, my co-workers and I quickly got into the spirit of things and, with the help of the kitchen staff, washed hands, donned aprons and positioned hairnets. (Hairnets are a purely utilitarian device – meant to keep one’s pesky hairs from floating down into food. Sadly, they are not for the fashion forward.) However, once “hairnetted” in solidarity, we began welcoming current Red Cross House residents to a satisfying luncheon of lasagna, salad, macaroni and cheese and Salisbury steak. Our chef, Darryl Cook, serves three meals a day to an average of 30 clients. He’s had a very busy late winter as the House had over 100 residents for several weeks at a time. Our luncheon service was quiet by comparison; we served a handful of adults and three beautiful children. After a short time, we were able to sit down and sample Chef Cook’s food for ourselves. FYI – he makes a mean lasagna.
I’ve heard a lot about Red Cross House in the year I’ve been volunteering, and I’ve written countless blogs and articles that mention its 26 private hotel-style suites, its casework offices, training rooms and counseling services, its outdoor playground and laundry facilities, and its heartbreakingly empty storage lockers. I already knew it was a special place, but I was amazed at the feeling of warmth evident during our visit. The foyer is surrounded by a colorful mural of happy and hopeful Philadelphians and there is cheerful artwork throughout the facility. The rooms are immaculate and private, with separate bathrooms. There is a children’s room, a den with a large television, a comfortable library and an up to date computer center.
These amenities make Red Cross House a model facility, not just because it is bright and orderly, but because it communicates tremendous respect for its clientele. The message to people in our area who have suffered a house fire or other disaster is – you matter. You are worthy of our care and concern. You deserve the assistance of your community to get back on your feet and recover. Red Cross House’s recognition of its clients’ humanity and agency, despite their state of desperate need, is why it is successful. I, for one, feel enormously proud that it was built here, in Philadelphia.
Submitted by Communications Volunteer Sarah Peterson