Northern Division: Serving every county in Minnesota and North Dakota
Tom Isle, disaster volunteer

Disaster volunteers bring light into darkness

Added on Thursday, May 11, 2017

“A disaster is a unique opportunity to journey into the hearts and minds of the people that are affected. Their stories – some horrifying, some heartwarming, and others inspiring – are something a volunteer never forgets.”

Tom Isle, disaster volunteerThose are the words of disaster services volunteer Tom Isle (pictured). Isle has spent countless hours serving as a volunteer with our Brainerd, Minn. disaster response team during the past four years, doing everything from cooking meals, to tornado clean-up, to providing emotional support for survivors.

When tornadoes, floods, fires, and other disasters strike, Salvation Army volunteers like Isle, along with our staff, provide critical services to ensure survivors have the support they need to rebuild their lives.

Our disaster volunteer team serves across Minnesota and North Dakota, with local response units based in many communities including the Twin Cities, Brainerd and Fargo.

We’re known for being the first service agency to arrive and the last to leave. Once the dust settles, our staff and volunteers stay for weeks, months or even years until we’ve done all we can to help.

We need more people like Isle, ready and willing to help at any moment, to join our volunteer team.

Getting Started

Joining the disaster volunteer team is simple:  First, complete an application. Then, attend two introductory training courses (learn more). We train disaster volunteers year-round at locations across Minnesota and North Dakota (find upcoming classes).

Salvation Army mobile kitchenOnce you’ve completed those steps, you’re ready to serve. Trained volunteers are called when a need arises and assigned a role if they are available.

While joining the team is easy, it does require some pre-planning. Our 17-year disaster volunteer, Jim Daly, put it like this:

“After or during a disaster, everybody wants to help and nobody quite knows how to do it. Volunteers who are not trained can fill sandbags and do similar things that are needed, but that’s it. You don’t need a background check or any training to fill a sandbag. To do anything further, though, like working directly with those affected, you need to be trained, which includes a background check.”

Daly says The Salvation Army is known for having a great reputation during disasters. (Read this related Q&A with Jim Daly.)

“People see a Salvation Army volunteer and they know that this is somebody who knows what they’re doing, has been trained, has had a background check, and is good to go,” Daly said.

Next-Level Service

Tom Isle, disaster volunteerDaly and Isle have lots of experience serving alongside The Salvation Army after disasters. They know the ins and outs of how we serve. They exude passion for the work and compassion for those they are helping. And, they’ve served in a variety of volunteer roles.

All of our disaster volunteers have the option to attend additional training to serve in a specialty role, as they learn more about us and discover ways their skills make them a unique fit.

While you don’t have to be retired to serve in a specialty role, we are always seeking skilled retired or semi-retired professionals to serve in a number of leadership functions (read related story).

Disaster volunteers in NepalIn the event of large-scale national and international disasters, volunteers from our local response units are sometimes called upon to serve in other regions of the country, or even the world.

See how our national disaster relief team responds to disasters all over the map.

In the past, Minnesota and North Dakota volunteers have served after tragedies like 9/11 and countless natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

Unforgettable Experiences

Our volunteers bring light into dark situations. Their emotional support, or even something as simple as the sandwich they just made, may be the thing that restores a survivor’s hope and gives them the strength to muster a smile.

Tom Isle, disaster volunteerThis was just the case for a squad of nine weary firefighters when Isle served them sloppy joes at his first volunteer outing with us in 2013. The firefighters had been battling a Menahga, Minn. blaze that forced 1,700 people to evacuate (hear about Isle’s first experience in this related story).

Isle recalls a favorite light-hearted memory, one that has become a testament to the friendships he’s developed through his service as a disaster volunteer.

“After eating one of our meals, the Sherriff of Morrison County (Minn.) asked if he could get the bean recipe. I responded, ‘The Salvation Army gives away everything they have, except its recipes.’ Just as quick, he said, ‘Don’t forget who are you are talking to. I could put you in jail for withholding evidence in an investigation.’”

To those considering getting started as a volunteer, Isle offers this:

“No one does it better than The Salvation Army,” he said. “From house fires to tornadoes, each disaster’s needs are different, but Salvation Army founder William Booth had it right when he said: ‘Soup, Soap, and Salvation.’ I am so glad that God has called me to be a Salvation Army Volunteer.”

See Isle in action, serving breakfast following a wind storm in Brainerd Lakes, Minn. Then, learn more about becoming a disaster volunteer.