Beverly Hills resident honored for disaster relief work

By: Robin Ruehlen | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published April 24, 2013

BEVERLY HILLS — Longtime resident Rita Morisette might just be the busiest retiree in the village of Beverly Hills.

As a disaster relief worker for the American Red Cross since 2005, she has spent much of the past eight years involved in training, traveling and responding to 13 major disasters across the United States, as well as hundreds of local emergencies in Pontiac and Detroit. 

On April 16, the Village Council presented Morisette with a proclamation honoring her exceptional dedication to disaster relief work, both locally and abroad.

“You might see her at the grocery store, or you might see her at Beverly Park, but you may not know that you have a hero in your community,” said Bloomfield Township resident Diane Bert at the  meeting.

“After she retired in 2005, Rita decided she wanted to do something to help. She contacted the Red Cross, and took classes on setting up shelters, government operations and damage assessment. She also has the prestigious honor of being a certified emergency response vehicle driver.”

Morisette said that, as a response vehicle driver, she was responsible for feeding those who had been through a disaster, as well as transporting food to various locations.

“We’d start out feeding 500 people a day, and then when we ran out of food, we’d go pick up some more and head to another area,” she said.

“There’s just so much work to be done, and people don’t realize how much disaster relief involves. There’s logistics — setting up shelters, knowing how to manage them and supervise them, getting the sources for feeding people, getting cooks. It goes on and on,” she said.

Although most disaster relief volunteers are asked to stay on site for at least two weeks, Morisette said her longest assignment lasted three months following the devastation left along the Louisiana and Mississippi coastlines by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

“Katrina was my first assignment, and right after that, Hurricane Rita hit, so I just stayed down there,” she said.

“It was quite a moving experience, meeting all of those people. It still gets to me emotionally.”

Morisette said she has been back to the areas affected by Katrina while on assignments for other storms in recent years.

“They’ve built mainly apartments on the waterfront where the old mansions once stood,” she said.

“It’s not all filled yet, but they’re still building.”

When she’s not responding to large-scale disasters — including, most recently, Hurricane Sandy in New York — Morisette is on call for one week each month responding to house fires in Detroit and Pontiac.

“We just had one this week in Detroit — a family with a large number of adults and children in one location. The fire just gutted the inside of the home, so we had to find them temporary shelter and provide food and clothing sources,” she said.

“When people think of the Red Cross, they tend to think about just blood donation, but there’s so much more to it than that.”

After Councilman Greg Burry read the proclamation, Morisette received standing applause from both the council and the audience.

“I thank you very much for this. It’s actually not just for me, but for all the volunteers at the American Red Cross who have supported all those in need during a disaster,” she said.

Morisette added that she has made good friends through her training and work with the Red Cross, and she encourages others to give disaster relief a try.

“It’s a very worthwhile organization,” she said.

“After I retired from AAA, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I thought about it for a while, and I decided to join the Red Cross. I’m very glad I did.”

Council President Tim Mercer said, on behalf of the village, that he greatly appreciates Morisette’s dedication and service to “this very worthwhile organization.”

“For those of us who can’t go out and volunteer when disasters happen, there is never a better place to give to than to the Red Cross,” he said.