By Michael de Vulpillieres and Niamh McDonnell, American Red Cross
October 18, 2016 had been an evening like any other for Donna Atkinson but in the blink of an eye her life was turned upside down by a home fire. Yet in the face of adversity, her own resolve along with some help from the Red Cross allowed her to move forward.
Donna had been watching TV in her studio apartment when she stepped out into the hallway where she noticed the smell of smoke. She realized there was something burning upstairs and quickly ran to warn her neighbors of the fire, saving their lives in the process. Once she realized everyone was OK and made her way to safety outside, Donna was confronted with the reality of what just happened.
“I lost everything that I worked hard to buy. The bed burnt to the spring,” she cried. “I’m happy that I’m alive…but you still lose your personal things and wonder ‘How are you going to get by?’ It’s sad.”
Originally from Jamaica, Atkinson moved to the United States by herself a year ago and in her short time in New York City she worked hard to build a life for herself here. She had only been in her Canarsie home for six months when disaster took everything from her.
“[After the fire] I was balling and asking ‘Where am I going to stay, what am I going to do?’… I tried calling my dad; nobody’s answering,” she recalled. “I just kept balling. And then he [a first responder] said to me, ‘the Red Cross is going to come.’ I guess that’s where a little hope came in.”
As soon as the Red Cross arrived on scene, a volunteer offered reassurance and provided her with emergency housing at a nearby hotel for two nights and some financial assistance to buy basic necessities like food and clothing. Atkinson recalled that the money “felt like a million dollars” and that overall the Red Cross was “a ray of sunshine” for her during these difficult moments.
After experiencing the Red Cross mission firsthand, Donna realized that she too could be a part of it. As someone with a natural inclination to help others, she plans to become a Red Cross volunteer so that she can help give people that same sense of hope that she received.
“I want to give back to the Red Cross cause they have helped me…I want to be where I can just physically help people,” she said. “I want to volunteer, to help, to make somebody else have a glimpse of hope.”