Red Cross CEO from Utah will deploy to Florida where she worked before

Sep 30, 2022, 7:04 PM | Updated: Oct 12, 2022, 5:55 pm

MURRAY, Utah — Red Cross volunteers from Utah are already helping in Florida, and more are on their way. The regional Red Cross CEO, based in Salt Lake City, will head there Saturday, and she already knows the area which suffered the most severe damage.

“Right now, it’s still a life-saving operation. It’s still sheltering and feeding,” said Heidi Ruster, regional CEO for the Utah/Nevada Red Cross.

Ruster held that same position for eight years in the Fort Myers area before coming here, and had responsibilities in five Florida counties. On Saturday, she will deploy to that area, eager to help, but with mixed emotions.

“I’m excited, but I’m also apprehensive just to see the damage,” she said.

Ruster typically deploys a couple times a year in support of other Red Cross leaders. Last year, she deployed to California to assist on one of the largest wildfires. Recovery in Florida is just getting started.

“It’s a dynamic situation,” she said. “That’s how disaster response is, so we play it day by day. But I know my job is to collaborate, strengthen relationships, and make sure we are fulfilling the gaps and the needs of the community.”

Her prior relationships in Fort Myers and the surrounding area make her an especially valuable team member. But she also knows the destruction will be difficult to witness.

“It was my home for eight years, and my kids all graduated high school there. So personally, it’s a little gut-wrenching,” she said.

Bonnie and Dave Kenison, Red Cross volunteers from Orem, were working at an evacuation shelter in an elementary school in Crescent City, Florida, when the hurricane blew through.

“We’re just happy to be here and help where we can,” Bonnie said in a video call. “For us, it was a little windy and a lot of hard rain, and the power went on and off several times.”

Dave went out in the middle of the night during the storm to get some supplies from a trailer.

“The wind was blowing pretty hard at that point,” he said. “They were estimating only 40 to 50 mph that reached in our area, so not near hurricane force.”

The Kenisons have now moved on to a long-term shelter in Sebring where they will support evacuees and the National Guard, which has arrived. While they were making the transition, they drove through the Orlando area.

“We saw a lot of the issues that have been caused by the flooding there,” Dave said. “Still lots of power out, lots of stoplights not working through that whole area.”

But the sun was out Friday, and the people in that part of central Florida dodged the worst of Ian.

“I think the people are feeling pretty good here. They feared that it was going to be much worse,” he said.

Generous financial donations are the best way Utahns can help. Ruster said that’s what provides the Red Cross the necessary resources. It’s easy to give at redcross.org.

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Red Cross CEO from Utah will deploy to Florida where she worked before