Lunenburg Duo Travel to Help Hurricane Victims in Florida
By Mina Corpuz
LEOMINSTER -- Joanne Martinec and Eileen Ramsden of Lunenburg see their volunteer work through the Salvation Army as an opportunity to help the community and beyond.
For two weeks before Thanksgiving, the two women traveled to Florida as part of the organization’s disaster response team to feed people who lost their homes, friends and jobs after Hurricane Michael struck the panhandle area in October.
“It was very gratifying, and sometimes sad,” said Ramsden, who traveled with the Salvation Army’s disaster response team for the first time on the trip. “It was nice to go volunteer and know we could help. ... We were so busy down there and it didn’t feel like work.”
Ramsden and Martinec were in Tallahassee and Panama City during the trip. They arrived Nov. 2 and stayed until Nov. 19.
Volunteers worked up to 12 hours per day to feed hundreds of people each day.
Martinec said the trip was emotionally, physically and spiritually draining, but a good experience.
She was amazed how people didn’t complain about their situations and were grateful for help from the responding organizations.
They would say how they felt so alone when the hurricane hit, but supported once the groups came to help, Martinec said.
“Some were in tough shape, but they had the spirit of hope,” she said. “In a hopeless situation they had hope moving forward.”
Although volunteers didn’t have much time to interact with people while serving meals, Martinec tried to talk with them.
“Most people wanted an ear and a shoulder to lean on,” she said.
Martinec said it was hard to leave Florida because there is still so much more work to be done there.
This is the second time she has traveled there with the disaster relief team. Last year she went to Florence and Naples to help people after Hurricane Irma.
Both women said they consider volunteering as central to their identities.
Martinec began volunteering with the Salvation Army about five years ago after her retirement. Ramsden has been with the organization for about a decade.
“What is a better way to use your time than helping the community when it is in need?” Martinec said. “It’s a nice feeling.”
Ramsden said volunteering is what she is meant to do and a way for her to make people happy.
They are members of the local chapter’s Advisory Board and can typically be seen around Fitchburg, Leominster and Lunenburg helping with the chapter’s events and providing food and blankets to house-fire victims in the area from the Salvation Army’s white canteen truck.
On Saturday, the truck was at Leominster’s Winter Stroll. They were among volunteers who handed out free hot chocolate and snacks to visitors near Monument Square in downtown.
It was Martinec’s first time at the holiday event with the Salvation Army’s canteen.
“Christmas is a magical time,” she said. “It’s fun to take the canteen out and chat with people.”
Follow Mina Corpuz on Twitter @mlcorpuz.