When Robin Chattopadhyay signed up for the American Red Cross in 2014, he was seeking "kind of a three-way mix of altruism, adventure and networking."
Check, check and check.
Volunteering for the Red Cross "gives me a chance to broaden my existence," he said.
Chattopadhyay, a 41-year-old Roseville resident who works in institutional retirement services for Wells Fargo, spent his first years volunteering at local disasters like house fires. With a full-time job and three young children, he was reluctant to leave town for the standard two-week Red Cross deployments.
But after this summer's hurricanes, Chattopadhyay decided "the Red Cross needs all the help they can get."
Taking paid time off from his job, he was sent to Fort Myers, Fla., arriving a week after Hurricane Irma's landfall. He and another volunteer spent several days driving around in a rental car, assessing damage. They passed closed businesses, downed trees, wrecked homes.
"The thing that shocked me the most was how random it was," Chattopadhyay said. "We went through, in particular, a lot of mobile-home communities. Some looked totally destroyed. Some looked like they hadn't been touched."
Chattopadhyay visited neighborhoods where residents had piled their ruined belongings in front of their homes.
"I saw baby pictures and photo albums sitting out at the curb, rotting in the sun. It was hard to look at."
Next he was assigned to distribute supplies: rakes, shovels, mops, trash bags, diapers, hygiene products, snacks, formula, bleach, bottled water.
"That's when I got the chance to talk to people, he said. "They wanted to tell their stories, so I listened."
Finally, he spent a week in a hot and humid warehouse, sorting supplies donated by businesses, from sunscreen to buckets.
He was "floored" by the kindness of local residents. The man who stopped working on his lawn to repair a flat tire on the rental car. The diner proprietor who wouldn't let him pay for his lunch, saying "your money's no good here."
So how about that three-way mix?
Adventure: Volunteering took him out of his climate-controlled element and ordinary routine. "I work behind a desk 40 hours a week, so my threshold for adventurism is not very high," Chattopadhyay admitted.
Networking: Not the kind that involves passing out business cards, but Chattopadhyay got to know folks from all over the country. "I've met just such a great variety of people — people I wouldn't have ever met any other way."
Altruism: Well, that speaks for itself.
"For me, it's a feeling of being able to go home and recognize that I made a difference in somebody's day," he said. "Just the act of showing up and caring for somebody is a huge thing."