By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
RIPLEY – Combine a love for people with a limitless desire to serve and you’ll find the motivation that drives American Red Cross volunteer Sandra Torres.
Torres, 51, is based in Ripley, but has been deployed more than 50 times to disaster sites around Mississippi and the country to help provide Red Cross services to disaster victims.
The New Albany native became a volunteer with American Red Cross in 1998. She has two adult children: Nickie Romero of Florida and William Mills of Myrtle.
“My mother was taking a class and wanted me to take her,” Torres said. “I ended up going and taking the classes myself, CPR and First Aid.”
After her husband’s death in 2001, Torres said she was at a loss.
“I didn’t know what to do with my life,” she said. “I prayed and asked God what to do, and he said go and help people.”
After that Torres dedicated herself to her work as an American Red Cross volunteer, first being available 24 hours a day seven days a week to help locally, assisting people who have suffered a fire or other emergency that has displaced them from their homes.
Recently a fire in Blue Mountain left a family of six without a home, and she was able to give them the help they needed.
“I love to talk to people, never met a stranger, so I took every training class I could at New Albany,” she said. “And I love working with the fire departments. They do so much to help our communities.”
Torres had never flown on a plane until she went to Corpus Christi, Texas, for training with Red Cross on working in an emergency response vehicle – ERV.
The ERV might be the most familiar Red Cross presence. The agency has more than 320 ERVs in 49 states that are used after disasters like home fires, tornadoes and floods to serve meals, snacks and beverages to families and distribute relief supplies.
During her time in Texas Torres was able to use her Spanish language skills. She also is proficient in American Sign Language.
The American Red Cross Mississippi Region considers her a valuable team member.
“Sandra is a seasoned Red Cross disaster volunteer and she deployed to Colorado in September to assist with flooding response and relief efforts,” said spokeswoman Martha Duvall. “She is a trained Red Cross client caseworker with 15 years of experience and more than 50 deployments to her credit.”
Torres also was deployed last year to help after Hurricane Sandy ripped across the East Coast.
The Red Cross prepares volunteers for a variety of service roles, and Torres is also experienced with sheltering, disaster assessment, partner services, longer lasting benefits and bereavement.
“I love to do outreach, and will go wherever they send me to do whatever they tell me,” she said. “I love working with communities to get them involved with Red Cross. I’m a volunteer, not a paid staff member, and Red Cross can always use more volunteers. We operate from people’s donations, too, and we can always use more support that way.”
Torres has established strong relationships with many businesses, churches and individuals in Benton and Tippah counties who are always willing to help when she calls on them for support.
The recent threat of an ice storm required that she be prepared to open an emergency shelter if people lost power in their homes, and First Baptist Church was prepared to provide the needed space.
“It’s important that I keep a list of other agencies that I can refer people to for assistance after the Red Cross crisis assistance is over,” Torres said. “I often send people to Good Samaritan here in Ripley or the Salvation Army in Tupelo, and many other agencies that might be able to help them. Words can’t explain the satisfaction I get helping people move forward with their lives.”