…et le travail portent leurs fruits.
Pardon my (possibly incorrect?) French, but just wanted to let you know that Mardi Gras is upon us! Mr. Shawn, one of our Red Cross volunteers who comes into the office every Thursday, has been talking about the carnival season since we got here in August, yet it still seemed to sneak up on us!
New Orleans NPRC members Julie and Grant have been to Mardi Gras before, but NPRC members Ursula and Amanda are new to the sights, sounds, and smells (yes, those too) of New Orleans’ Carnival season. Mardi Gras with the Red Cross has been a unique experience, as Lou Kennedy, Volunteer Services Director, promised in the interview for the NPRC position. The Southeast Louisiana Red Cross sets up first aid tents at specific points along parade routes for the larger parades in New Orleans, with teams of volunteers walking on foot offering basic first aid in certain sections. These tents and foot teams are meant to assist (but not replace) EMTs and Paramedics on the ground in highly congested areas during the parades, to alleviate pressure on the emergency medical infrastructure. There were over 325 shifts comprised of volunteers trained in first aid and first responders over the course of a week and a half, in addition to staffing and logistic shifts. Mardi Gras is a huge undertaking for the SELA Red Cross and there was a great deal of planning and work that went into Mardi Gras: ensuring that the tents had the appropriate permits from the city, transporting medical supplies, ordering T-shirts for volunteers, making sure Red Cross vehicles were all in top notch condition, even arranging bathroom facilities for volunteers at the tents… The list goes on! While we did see other parts of the larger picture, the NPRC were primarily involved in volunteer recruitment and staffing, as well as working shifts at the first aid tents themselves. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Red Cross Mardi Gras is as impressive as any multi-story float or perfectly synchronized drumline.
Some general first impressions and recommendations:
- Planning a large-scale special event like Mardi Gras can be very similar to planning a disaster operation, including amassing a trained and dedicated workforce and deploying them in shifts as needed. In the weeks and months before Mardi Gras, we had been contacting volunteers all over southeast Louisiana who had done the first aid tents in the past by phone and email (everything short of carrier pigeon). The NPRC from Baton Rouge also came down and helped out at with the first aid stations, along with some other volunteers from Baton Rouge and other parts of Louisiana. We had been recruiting heavily during past tabling events and through the Red Cross College Cubs at local universities and community colleges. It’s a fun experience, and we get many repeat first aid volunteers, but it’s also an understandably busy time of the year, with friends, family and acquaintances dropping in to visit. Without these amazing volunteers that are willing to get trained, show up for shifts, and help people, these first aid tents wouldn’t be possible. A thousand thanks to them all! (and sorry for all the voicemails we left).
- Finding volunteers was one thing, but ensuring that everyone is first aid trained and has current certification is also important. During February, there was a big push to get people trained or re-certified in First Aid; Carolanne and Grant also taught a First Aid class to some new volunteers! Keeping everyone and their certification status, shift assignments, and volunteer database profiles organized is a challenge. We used multiple spreadsheets, google docs, and rosters. So. Many. Spreadsheets.
- Catch the throws (or they will hit you). Julie’s least favourite part of Mardi Gras are the beaded necklaces, cups, doubloons, and other things lobbed from the floats at the audience. While an awesome souvenir of the experience, these “throws” may be more accurately called “fast moving and often hard projectiles aimed at your head” (but that’s understandably too long). Because the first aid tents are located right on the parade routes, the first aid tents get quite a few throws. Catch or duck.
- Have fun! After all the preparation and hard work that goes into Mardi Gras, it’s a good feeling to see the tents and supplies in place, staffing volunteers checking people in at the beginning and end of parades, and volunteers in Red Cross T-shirts assisting people at the stations. When you’re at the first aid station, enjoy the decorations of the floats, the costumes of the Krewes, as well as the music and theatrics of the marching band. Talk to your fellow volunteers; they all have interesting backgrounds and ended up with the Red Cross in different ways. Take pride in the first aid and comfort that you are able to give people; what you do matters and people appreciate it. Of course, things may come up last minute, but hey, you all work in disaster response and management, you’ll handle it!
Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!