Red Cross Partners with Locals to Feed Georgia Disaster Victims

Christopher Quinn, American Red Cross of Georgia Public Affairs Volunteer

Thursday, April 6th, 2023

“Hot pan coming in, baby,” Sharon Peterson warned as she swings a 4-inch-deep steam table tray full of green beans into place for serving.

Peterson and other workers in the kitchen of Feeding the Valley Food Bank outside of Columbus, Georgia, were working up steam of their own to quickly prepare and pack more than 300 hot meals to serve to tornado victims on March 30. The food bank, which serves 18 counties, has been a key partner with the American Red Cross to make sure people without electricity, water – and in some cases a home – don’t also go without food after the March 26 tornado wrecked a section of nearby West Point, Georgia.

Whenever the Red Cross reaches out, “they know we are here,” said Steve Watson, director of operations for the food bank.

The American Red Cross depends not only on its volunteers to complete its mission of responding to disasters across the nation and the world, but also on those who know the lay of the land, key contacts, and local resources that can be activated to help.

“Community partnerships are crucial when responding to a disaster,” said Kelly Sharon, the preparedness and partnerships program manager for the American Red Cross of Georgia. “These relationships help us assist people faster by relying on local partners who know the people and the nuances of the situation.”

Peterson and two other food bank workers spooned up steaming hamburger steaks, green beans, and a golden, fresh-made biscuit into the to-go plates. Watson helped load the plates into a new machine that seals them with plastic film, keeping them sanitary and making them easy to pack into insulated containers and hand out.

Waiting in the wings were Red Cross volunteers Connie and Mark Fleetwood. The two Georgians have been helping across the country since Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast in 2012.

Mark, then recently retired, saw the disaster and decided to go with the Red Cross to help.

“I said, ‘you go and let me know if this is something we want to do,’” Connie said.

“He called a couple of days later and said, ‘this is life-changing.’” And the two have stayed busy ever since.

She paused then added, “And I am married to a man who can’t sit still.”

The two helped load nine insulated containers packed with hot meals and then crates of bananas into a Red Cross van before heading to the hard-hit areas of West Point. This was their fifth day on this assignment, and they knew the routes.

They stopped at the home of Nick Matthews to drop off meals for him, his wife, and four daughters. Connie also squirreled away a small bag of dog snacks for Matthews’ two small pets.

Matthews showed the visitors the base of his double-wide trailer, which the winds shifted off the foundation by about four inches, severing the plumbing. He has to keep his water off until the broken pipes are repaired. He gathered the family in the pantry as the storm hit, and felt the winds pick his home up before setting it back down in a new position.

“I was scared,” he said. He spent the days after the storm cleaning broken limbs off his land and draping blue tarps over his now-leaking roof. A process, he says, that has been a bit depressing.

Fortunately, the Fleetwoods’ daily visits have been a bright spot for them.

“It’s uplifting to see somebody come out here and help,” he said.

People in need of emergency assistance are asked to call 1-800 RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or go to You can also download the free American Red Cross Emergency App to help protect yourself and your loved ones. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores or visit The app is also compatible with Apple Watch and Android wearable devices.