By Joel Hall
Two eggs scrambled, hashbrowns well-done, a side of wheat toast, and cream-only coffee. Lyle Sword, a full-time rural mail carrier in McDonough, knows exactly what he wants when he goes to Waffle House, as he spends many late nights there.
It is not Sword's day job, however, that keeps him up at night. He moonlights as a volunteer with the Forest Park-based American Red Cross Southern District Disaster Assistance Team.
This month, Sword was honored by United Way in Clayton County as volunteer of the month for his dedication to the community and for using the majority of his spare time responding to victims of fire and other disasters in Clayton, Henry, Fayette, and Butts counties.
"He responds to victims of disasters ... he is at their side giving them comfort, lodging, clothing and food," said Rita Hand, office manager of United Way in Butts, Clayton, and Henry Counties. "His big smile, winning ways, patience and knowledge give the victims hope and the assurance that someone cares. This is a priceless commodity in any language."
Every weekday Sword delivers mail to 557 customers on a 54-mile route which goes through the Orchard subdivision, Bethel Road, and Wynn Road in McDonough. Every third week for seven days straight -- from the time he gets off work until the time he goes in -- Sword is on call.
From Monday to Friday, Sword is on call for 15 hours a day. On Saturday and Sunday, he is on call 24 hours a day.
In the case of a disaster, such as a fire, the Red Cross provides victims with essentials public safety officials don't often have, such as blankets, flash lights, water, and "comfort kits" containing soap, a toothbrush, a wash cloth, and other items.
Sword said that he often carries donated teddy bears in his van to give to children who may have lost all of their possessions in a fire. "It's something to give them a little comfort," he said.
Sword said that during a busy week, he may receive as many as five emergency calls, but on average, he responds to three a month. From the time he receives a call to the time he gets home, each response takes about four hours.
"If it's anything after 2 a.m., I usually just stay up," before going into work, said Sword.
Shawn Coleman, a disaster specialist with the American Red Cross Southern District Office, nominated Sword for the award. She said that in addition to Sword's local service, he volunteered to drive generators, fans and other supplies from Clayton County to locations in Alabama in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"I have enjoyed working with Lyle for the last two and a half years," said Coleman. "You can't ask for a better volunteer. When he gets off at 5:30 p.m., or 6 p.m., he is still going out there to help people whose lives have been devastated at 2 a.m.
"That takes a lot of dedication," Coleman continued. "He's always there when you need him."
Sword said when it gets difficult to get up for a late night call, he remembers why he is getting it.
"Every time when that phone rings, you don't want to get out of bed," said Sword. "The reason I get out of bed is because the person who is calling probably doesn't have a bed. I'd want somebody to be there for me, if something like that happened.
"You always see these disasters and you say what can I do? This is something anybody can do."