Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The importance of a toothbrush

I can't find a way to write this without sounding like a smug a-hole, but in the past couple weeks, I've been kind of overwhelmed with people telling me they've seen me on tv. My aunt and uncle in Florida, my cousin in North Carolina, a friend in Seattle, high school classmates, college pals, colleagues, even residents at work have told me they've been seeing the ad I appear in for the Red Cross lately.

I'm not a person who likes the spotlight; I'm uncomfortable receiving attention, so hearing people say, "I saw you on tv!" is kind of discomfiting. Even more perplexing are the people who only caught the end of the ad or didn't hear most of it- one person asked if I knew I was on tv, another asked if I was in the ad because I'd been through a fire, and the best is my dad, who saw it while I was briefly at their house and yelled at me to come in the other room and check myself out. I declined and assured him I was well aware of what I'd been saying on national television.

Here's the back story- a couple years ago, the Red Cross put out a call asking for people's "Red Cross Stories." I wrote a little paragraph about how for years I kept the box from the comfort care kit I received after my childhood house fire as a place to keep my treasures and remember the goodness of people. The Red Cross folks liked it, interviewed me on the phone, ran background checks to make sure my story was legit, then asked if I'd like to have my story be part of their campaign. They sent a photographer to take some pictures and gave me a package with a video camera and instructions. (See video above. My package on our filthy stoop is in there.) I filmed a little bit, went home and interviewed my family and tried to get some shots of the neighborhood where our house was. I included some photos of the aftermath of the fire and sent the whole kaboodle off to the Red Cross.

They first ran the ad about 3 years ago, as well as posting it on their website. There were a lot of other Red Cross stories that were really gripping- people who survived floods, received a blood donation, saved a life thanks to CPR and First Aid classes, or survived other disasters, including house fires. (I recommend checking them out.) This past fall, they asked me to sign another release to keep using it. I figured it was something they did automatically. Then about a month ago, they started really churning this sucker out, and apparently, my little video is now everywhere.
My sister's room

Which I'm okay with (obviously, or I wouldn't have signed up for this) since it's a good cause. There have been a bunch of really terrible house fires in our area recently and hearing people's struggles to get back on their feet reminded me of how important the work the Red Cross does is. Most folks think if you have home insurance, you're set. Have a fire? Lose everything? Well, too bad about the memories and keepsakes, but insurance should replace it all, right? Not even close. For one thing, no insurance will ever replace everything you had, and it's important to remember that it's the insurance company claims adjuster's job to give as little of the insurance company's money to you as possible.

Note the melted light fixture
You have to fight tooth and nail to have covered what you've been paying all along to have covered. Our house was so unstable after the fire that it was condemned and had to be torn down, no chance of renovating or even rebuilding. Yet the claims adjuster on our case insisted the house was not a total loss and refused to pay out what we should have received for a home that was no longer habitable according to the police, fire department, etc. So the help the Red Cross provides is more important than you might think.

When I went to my parents' house with my Red Cross video camera and got my family all in one room
1st floor smoke & water damage
to talk about our memories of that night, I learned a lot of details I hadn't known before. My dad talked about standing out on our lawn in that terrible cold in the middle of the night watching his home burn down, and all of a sudden there was a guy all bundled up against the cold standing next to him. It was Gene Jacobs, the director of our local Red Cross. He asked my dad if we had a place to stay, and reassured him that they could take care of that for us if we needed it. And he handed him a check to help us get through the next couple days as we figured out what to do next. It was probably about 2am on a Sunday in February, on one of the coldest nights on record in years. He easily could've waited until the sun came up or sent someone else in his place. But instead, he got out of his warm bed, bundled up and went to stand on that snow-crusted lawn covered with firefighters' gear and burned stuff that had been thrown out the windows, to stand with my dad and offer him not only tangible proof that there were people looking out for us, but his own support and concern for us as well. I think that's utterly amazing.

My bedroom
So, whether you liked the ad or just got excited to see someone you know on tv, do something to make it count. Make a gift to your local Red Cross. (I know the commercial is for the national, but I believe in keeping your money in your own community.) If you've got a couple bucks to spare, let them use them to help out your friends and neighbors when trouble hits.

Because there are a lot of folks- and probably more as winter goes on- who will be standing on their own lawns looking at a burned-out building that used to be their home and wondering how on earth they're going to get back to normal. Give so that they have someone standing by their side in the cold, offering help and support. Give because there's another little girl trying to sleep on a neighbor's couch but wide awake from the trauma she's just been through and only starting to realize that everything she's ever called her own in her whole short life is gone. Give so that when she receives that comfort care box, toothbrush and all, she gets that physical reminder that not only will life be normal and good again, but that people are good, too.

PS- Don't forget you can volunteer or donate blood too!


  1. Okay, so now I am bawling. I have seen the spot a few times, but seeing the photos really got me. I am so glad that caring people were there to help. I am glad that I can help people too through my annual donation.

  2. Thank you so much for doing that, Louise!