Monday, December 31, 2012

Red Cross recovery efforts continue in the Rockaways

American Red Cross Volunteers, Sandy and Joe French help with feeding hot meals and delivering supplies using the emergency response vehicle in the Rockaway Beach area of New York on 12/28/12.(Mason Rankin photo, ARC)
It’s been 63 days since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York and New Jersey and there are still more than 1,000 Red Cross workers assisting with the relief and recovery efforts.

Cold temperatures and snowy conditions may have arrived in much of the Northeast, but that has not deterred the dedication and compassion of Sandy and Joe French, Red Cross volunteers from Modesto, CA.

“We’ve been here in New York for the past eight days, working through the holiday. We’ve been volunteering with the Red Cross for the past eight years,” said Sandy French. “We got married just so we could go out on deployments together,” joked Joe, cracking a smile.

Out in the battered, seaside Rockaways, their spirits and energy levels were high as they drove the Red Cross emergency response vehicle (ERV) on their now familiar and daily mobile feeding route.

As the French’s maneuvered the streets distributing hot meals, bottles of water, and household supplies, they talked with some of the residents that they’ve gotten to know in a short time. They’ve also been checking to find out who has heat in their homes and have been distributing brochures telling people where to get food, supplies and emotional support.

“Just the other day, we gave out about 100 knit hats, so people could stay a little bit warmer,” said Sandy French. The French’s have a friend back in California associated with a local nonprofit agency. The agency had a knitting drive and collected homemade hats for men, women and children. When the group learned that the French’s were coming to work on Red Cross Sandy relief efforts, they sent the hats along with them to give to New Yorkers.

The Red Cross disaster relief effort has now transitioned into the recovery phase with government and community partners. This includes an active collaborative effort among the Red Cross, FEMA, state and local government agencies, as well as community organizations, to provide long-term recovery resources. The key is for residents in communities affected by Sandy to know where to go and how to get future resources to rebuild their lives.

For information on updated feeding/recovery efforts in NY, please visit www.nyredcross.org.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Jean Curry

Jean Curry, an American Red Cross volunteer from the Phoenix Grand Canyon chapter, is a Disaster Action Team member who also handles Service to the Armed Forces caseloads. Additionally, Curry deploys nationally to major disasters as a client caseworker. In this role, she provides families with needed services, helping them move towards recovery.

An active blood donor for the past three years, Curry was scheduled to donate on Dec. 4. However, her plans were abruptly changed when she was deployed to New York City to help with the Superstorm Sandy relief effort.

When Curry hopped on a plane for New York on Dec. 3 she learned that a blood drive was being held at the Greater New York Red Cross headquarters, where she would be working. She seized the opportunity to donate as soon as possible.

“I know this is the right thing to do. I’m saving a life, and that makes me feel so good,” she said.

A retired social worker, Curry says that her volunteer involvement with the Red Cross is very satisfying, “It gives me all the flexibility I want and the opportunity to help others.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

California Elementary School Class Salutes Sandy Heroes

The fifth grade class of Kingsley Elementary School in Pomona, Calif., made packets for Red Cross volunteers, firefighters, and police officers helping with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

The packet is called a “Tool Kit for A Hero” and is made up of the following items, along with a note explaining their significance:

Mint – You are with a mint and for your commit “ment” to help all of us.

Rubber Band – To help you come back after you’ve been stretched thin.

Pennies – For the wonderful “change” you have made in all of our lives.

Tea Bag – for being so “Tea” riffic.

Paper Clip – To help keep it together.

Life Saver – You are a lifesaver and a hero.

Band-Aid – For all the aid you provide and all the healing you have done.

Tootsie Roll – You are a wonderful “roll” model, and for the important roll you plan in our lives.

Gum – You have shown us how to “stick” together and accomplish anything we put our mind to.

Puzzle Piece – You are such an important piece of our picture of America and a picture of a hero.

A Piece of String – So you will have a little more length when you are at the end of your rope.

Smile – So you know we are thinking of you and smiling.

This class has been reading about the relief efforts and wanted to express their appreciation to the Red Cross, firefighters, and police for all of their hard work and dedication.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Walk through Queens—A Realization of New York’s Resiliency

by Eric Kiltz

Breezy Point, a quiet, picturesque neighborhood located on the Rockaway peninsula in the south of Queens, never looked like the rest of New York City. As a private community, it hosts three of the few remaining volunteer fire departments in the New York area and its own private security force. When Hurricane Sandy blew into New York, Breezy Point faced stress as it never had before.

The American Red Cross public affairs team arrived in the morning of Nov 13 to document the work done by the Red Cross and the role it is playing in the recovery of this community. After refueling at a FEMA fuel point due to ongoing fuel shortages, we hoped the 10 gallon limit would allow us to complete our day’s mission and make it back to headquarters in Manhattan.

Our trip was worth it. We encountered some amazing people in this neighborhood: residents, volunteers, emergency workers and the people already trying to rebuild their lives.

Red Cross workers are dispatched in from all over the nation to assist after large disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. The Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Oregon we encountered was a perfect example of Red Cross workers’ dedication. We followed it as it snaked through police roadblocks, debris and mud-covered streets in its mission to bring hot food to cold people.

The ERV made one particularly notable stop in the parking lot of a restaurant called Kennedy’s. Kennedy’s has received outstanding reviews online reviews and had been a focal point in the community featuring incredible views of the Manhattan skyline. When we saw it, it was covered with discarded appliances and furniture. A look inside revealed a floor covered in sand, walls covered in mold. One woman I spoke with, a heartbroken owner of the restaurant, told me through tears how the restaurant had been her family’s livelihood for years. When asked if she would re-open, she seemed unsure.

The parking lot of Kennedy’s was as a drop off point for supplies donated by the community. It was a rainy day so a frantic effort was being made to cover the supplies with tarps. In a disaster, we tend to focus so much on the larger issues like food and shelter. But sometimes, just the little things can make someone’s day, such as the man who arrived to find a roll of toilet paper—the stores had been out for weeks, he said, and was immensely grateful. This man told us that he had been to other disaster sites with another organization so was happy to see help coming in to his neighborhood. His home had one-and-a-half feet of water at the height of the storm.

Another woman told us her extended family had been staying at her house—she now had eight people living with her. We helped her load up with water and canned food. She still had no electricity or gas service.

Spiritual Care is an assistance many people don’t realize the Red Cross offers. A nondenominational service, the Red Cross recognizes its clients have their own urgent religious and spiritual needs in a disaster. We met two volunteer chaplains who had spent the previous day in Breezy Point and who took us on an impromptu tour. They told us tales of clients breaking down over the loss of their homes, yet experiencing relief at finding a remaining photograph or other small memento. Breezy Point citizens seemed grateful for the Red Cross spiritual care visit, if only to use the Red Crossers as a sounding board to share their emotional experiences.

We walked many impassible side streets during our tour of Brooklyn. In the cold, wet weather, the streets were a hardship faced by all, including two men pulling a pump in a children’s wagon so they could remove the water from their home. Debris was everywhere, but debris was only part of the problem. The hardest obstacle was the sand. Sand was virtually everywhere: covering streets, burying homes thousands of feet from the beach, immersing yards. It was impossible to get close to the homes to offer help—or even take pictures.

The most heartbreaking and poignant place we visited was our final stop. At some point during the storm, a fire started in a home and it quickly spread to more than 100 surrounding houses. The local volunteer fire department was unable to reach the fire due to the storm—neither could the New York Fire Department. Entire blocks of homes burned down to their foundations. Little was left that was recognizable. Many of these homes were summer homes; those owners would at least have a place to go. Not all of the homes were summer homes, though; several inhabitants were there sifting through the rubble.

Hurricane Sandy produced countless stories of heartbreak and hope. There are many images of people helping one another hand-in-hand. One image that will remain in my mind for a long time is that of a smoldered fire hydrant with a freshly painted American Flag in the background. New Yorkers are a resilient people; they have encountered much adversity. One lesson I have learned is that New York will always be a great American city—it will rebuild, and it will come back better than ever.

Eric Klitz, who volunteered with the Sandy Relief Operation in NYC, works for the American Red Cross in California.

Red Cross Volunteers Deploy for Second, Third Terms

Daniel Lozano (far right) had finished his tour of duty.

After working for the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief for two weeks, wading through two feet of water in New Jersey, stocking the warehouse and serving hot meals and whatever the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) could hold, he flew back to San Antonio to resume his life. Then the memories of the people in need started to nag him; then his feeling toward Red Cross service began to call; then the next thing he knew, he was on a plane back to New York.

On Thanksgiving Day, Lozano was on a crew distributing hundreds of meals to people rebuilding their homes – and their lives – in Island Park, Long Island. Now on his second deployment, he has been out on another ERV handing out more relief supplies, seeing new faces and overcoming new challenges in the fifth week of the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

"I was a client from Hurricane Charlie. Before that, I had no idea about the Red Cross,” said Lozano. “In fact, I was one of those people who wouldn't even give to the United Way because some of that money went to the Red Cross. I was still mad about having to pay for coffee when I was in the military and came home from overseas in 1957 – 1958.

“Look at me now! I drive an ERV. This is my second time out on Hurricane Sandy. I've been in Tinton Falls, NJ, and Pennsylvania, and now back in New York.

“I love it.... Not the circumstances that bring me here. It's hard what people are going through. But I love this work and the Red Cross."

Photo: The team of Red Cross ERV truck 1142, Alan Herdle, Bart Bardaluccio, and Daniel Lozano in Island Park, N.Y., Thanksgiving Day. The trio distributed 250 Thanksgiving dinners and other necessities to residents across the neighborhood, which is slowly recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Teaming Partnership

by Jeramie Williams

Weekends on the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief effort call for an extra push – food and water to stock up on, comfort and clean-up kits to load, and trucks of all shapes and sizes to drive from the warehouses to the Red Cross staging sites.

“Some of our guys get only one day off, and their wives already had jobs lined up for them,” said Rich Caldwell, a Teamster from Milford, Pa., and one of the dozens of Teamsters helping out on the Red Cross Sandy mission. “My wife said, ‘Go on, get out of here!’”

Hurricane Sandy has fomented a unique partnership between the Tri-State Teamsters and the American Red Cross combining the union's logistics expertise with the agency's resources. Teamsters, a group of unionized drivers living and working across the region, prepositioned goods, operated the forklifts, and drove 16-foot box trucks loaded with urgently needed supplies from the New Jersey warehouse to the far-reaching areas devastated by the worst hurricane to hit New York in years.

Out in the field, they also helped identify stricken communities that hadn't been served, helping to identify the need for an emergency shelter in Long Beach, N.Y., and a distribution site at the Brooklyn Cyclones’ parking lot in Coney Island.

In another Teamster effort, a public official called to inform the Red Cross that the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, N.Y., needed help. The neighborhood in which it was located was also without power or heat, and the people lacked a hot meal and safe drinking water.

“The Red Cross has an amazing capacity and has been responsive,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “We have the members in place that can get it to the locals. We’re heading in the right direction. The partnership is working well.”

Laura Hevesi of the Red Cross praised the Teamsters with whom she worked: “Some came out night after night, making the long drive from Jersey City to staging points in far-flung places, ensuring everything people needed would be available the next day.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Andi Lee

Like many Hurricane Sandy Red Cross volunteers, Andi Lee, a bookkeeper and design consultant in Indiana, left her family (her husband and three children) at home while she dedicated two weeks of her time to helping people affected by the Oct. 29 disaster get back on their feet.

Although she is a regular Red Cross volunteer with her local Saint Joe chapter, this is Lee’s first deployment outside her region and as such, she didn't know what to expect from the assignment.

Lee initially found herself working in Harlem in Manhattan. Later, she served in Breezy Point on the Rockaways peninsula, as part of an enthusiastic and close-knit outreach team comprising mental health, health services and case workers.

The team, which also includes volunteers from Missouri and Minnesota, has been proactive in searching out local residents to assess their needs, and provide them with any basic necessities or emotional support that they require.

Lee has been impressed with the positivity and resilience of the Breezy Point community, where many residents are still without power and face a lot of work ahead of them to rebuild.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ready, Set, Roll

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the need for trained Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) drivers grew. By the end of November, more than 2,600 American Red Cross workers were supporting shelters, providing food and water at fixed sites, and driving ERVs through neighborhoods to dispense meals and supplies.

Many volunteers—about 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce are volunteers from all over the country—served in November and returned home to fill needs there. Those departures left a void—particularly in the ranks of ERV drivers.

What to do when there aren’t enough ERV drivers? The Red Cross found an instructor among the thousands of Red Cross workers on hand and offered the ERV course to train new teams. There were many takers, so the ERV class – Ready, Set, Roll – was offered more than once.

In the field, ERVs are utilized in three different ways: fixed feeding, mobile feeding, and search and serve. With fixed feeding, ERVs travel to apartment buildings, work sites, community or civic centers, search and rescue sites, emergency services command centers, and even locations where major traffic accidents have occurred. Volunteers then throw open the vehicle’s large side window or back door and hand out whatever supplies are needed at the time.

Mobile feeding is just that—ERVs drive through neighborhoods, stopping at various locations to hand out food. In a search and serve operation, volunteers go door to door, often in high-rise buildings, to distribute food and supplies to those who need them.

With the ERV training in place, a newly trained cadre of ERV crews can say they’re Ready, Set, and can Roll to help those still suffering from the effects of Sandy.

Photos: Syncere Zakee

Volunteer Spotlight: Caroline Belina of Canada

“I like the actual work and meeting such wonderful, sympathetic volunteers – we all connect to support one cause,” reflected Caroline Belina, of Montreal, Canada.

One of many people who have come from Red Cross organizations around the world to join in the Red Cross relief effort in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Belina is grateful for the support and encouragement her family, home branch, and workplace have given her.

Belina joined her local chapter of the Canadian Red Cross at the urging of her mother, who thought she would be uniquely suited to provide help and comfort to those impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Her branch agreed and arranged for her to deploy.

The school system where she teaches agreed to grant her leave without pay, and her teacher’s union stepped in to cover her salary while she was absent from the classroom.

“Everyone thinks this will set a good example for the kids,” Belina said of the support she has received.

Working at a Red Cross distribution site in the Rockaways in Queens, N.Y., she was glad to be a part of the massive relief effort, which has involved more than 15,000 disaster workers in the several states impacted by the storm.

Photo: Canadian Red Cross volunteer Caroline Belina (second from left) and her American counterpart, Theresa Green, helped hand out warm coats to storm victims with New York Liberty retired basketball player Kym Hampton and retired New York Knicks star John Wallace. (American Red Cross/Sue Kariker)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Visually Impaired Volunteer Brings her Positive Spirit — and Seeing Eye Dog – to the Sandy Operation

by Lilly Watson

American Red Cross volunteers of many backgrounds from cities across America fill the fourth floor of Red Cross Greater New York regional headquarters before heading out into the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Leah Seabury, age 24, manages to stand out among her diverse peers. It’s likely that Ralphie, her lovable guide dog, who stands close by on his harness ready to help her move around headquarters and out on visits to disaster victims, helps her do so.

In New York, on her first deployment from the Raleigh Regional chapter in North Carolina, Seabury works in a multitude of service delivery areas, including a Disaster Action Team and Client Casework, her current assignment. Seabury said her passion for public service is what brought her to the Red Cross three years ago when she received Ralphie as her guide dog.

“I love helping people, and if I had my vision, I would work in public safety,” Seabury shared. “The Red Cross gave me the chance to still live my passion for helping others despite my disability. “

Seabury enjoys the opportunity to personally talk to and help people who are at a low point in their lives. A smile lights her face when talking about her work with the Red Cross. She loves how disaster victims willingly open up to her and share what they’ve been through. Often, their stories begin through conversations with Ralphie.

“When I can tell someone has been through a lot, I’ll let Ralphie out of his harness and the family will start loving on him,” Seabury explained. “A person might open up and begin talking to Ralphie about what he or she is feeling before being ready to share with us.”

While Seabury and Ralphie bring needed emotional support to those affected by disaster, Ralphie also is a special addition to the team that can make casework easy for children and parents alike.

Seabury said, “He loves to keep children entertained and comforted, which helps parents get a head start on casework.”

While she is fresh to the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation, Seabury feels like the challenges she faces are no different than any other Red Cross volunteer on deployment: Mostly learning how to be flexible and positive as community needs change. She welcomes anyone with a unique background or ability to come learn how they can bring their skills to bear at the Red Cross.

“There’s always a way you can reach out to help someone through the Red Cross,” Seabury said. “Disabled to me means ‘not able to do,’ but I don’t think there’s a place for that at the Red Cross. I think there is always something someone can do to help others, and it’s all about finding what that is.”


Photo (by Destry Carr): Leah Seabury and Ralphie, her guide dog, at Greater New York regional headquarters after a day out in the field. Red Cross caseworkers like Seabury meet with affected families after a disaster to ensure that their immediate needs are met while they work to begin their long term recovery plan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Red Cross Portraits - A Jason Florio Project


Click here to learn more about each of these New Yorkers as well as the photographer Jason Florio.

All in a Day’s Work: One of New York’s Finest Volunteers

When Dazzare Jefferson reported to work as an NYPD crossing guard in the days following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on Oct. 29, she was amazed at the crowd of people in red and white garb—coats, vests, hats, backpacks—streaming past her post near Greater New York Red Cross headquarters.

“When I saw the number of volunteers coming into the building, I knew I wanted to help. There were so many people from all over the world helping and I’m right here at this corner,” she said.

After her morning shift, Jefferson now puts on a red and white vest and gets to work at the region’s volunteer office, helping new volunteers of all ages and professions find their place in the American Red Cross.

“One woman told me that she decided to volunteer on her only day off instead of shopping,” Jefferson said. “I have signed up nurses that came together as a group.”

“She’s one of our best,” said Beth Shook, who manages the local disaster volunteer component of the more than 1,700 Red Crossers currently working on the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Dazz, as she is know, to her colleagues, brings a wealth of local knowledge to the newly arrived volunteers from around the country and around the world who pass through the relief headquarters on their way to Red Cross assignments.

“I give directions, recommendations and tell them how to get around New York City,” Jefferson said. “It is so fun being here every day and being part of the Red Cross.”

Jefferson plans to continue as a Red Cross volunteer. “I am a liaison between the city and the Red Cross on issues that I can help resolve,” she said. “I try to give a friendly, helpful face to both.”

American Red Cross Service: A New Family Legacy

When Barb Bakalyar, a Board member from the American Red Cross Southwest Minnesota chapter, and her daughter, Sarah Pohlman, trained together to become Red Cross volunteers, they were looking for a change of pace – and a change of scenery.

They had no idea that months later, the Greater New York Red Cross would tap them to help with the largest Red Cross disaster relief operation in the last five years.

When she got the call, Bakalyar wasn’t sure Pohlman, a busy social worker, would agree to deploy to the Hurricane Sandy operation in New York. But Bakalyar had a special trick. “I didn’t give her enough time to say no,” she said from the nursing triage room at the Red Cross shelter at Long Island’s Nassau Community College.

Since she arrived in New York last week, Bakalyar has been working for the nursing team at Nassau Community College, where the Red Cross has set up an emergency health clinic. Pohlman has been in the serving as a client case worker at Sandy Relief Operation headquarters in Manhattan. Both Bakalyar and Pohlman took time off from their full-time jobs in Minnesota to offer their professional expertise in the wake of the devastating storm.

Bakalyar and Pohlman each have skills critical to the recovery response. Since Sandy hit, the Red Cross has provided more than 89,000 health service and emotional support contacts for people who have been living in the toughest of conditions.

Right now, nearly 3,000 Red Cross workers are supporting shelters, providing food and water at fixed sites, as well as driving through neighborhoods to distribute meals and supplies. About 90 percent of these workers are volunteers from all over the country. To date, the Red Cross has mobilized more than 14,800 trained workers to help people affected by Sandy across 10 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Back in Minnesota, Bakalyar works in the nursing industry as a clinical nurse and consultant with Avera. She said that employer’s corporate philosophy of caring for others made it easy to get approval for the spontaneous trip to New York.

Since the American Red Cross’s founding on the Civil War battlefields, nursing care has been a priority of the organization. Bakalyar believes most nurses have a caring, compassionate personality, which ideally suits them for Red Cross service.

“When you’re in the caregiving field, it just feels right,” Bakalyar said about nurses working with the Red Cross. “It feels like what I’m supposed to do.”

Photo by Lilly Watson: Red Cross volunteer Barb Bakalyar serves on a triage team at the Red Cross shelter at Nassau Community College on Long Island. Bakalyar’s team brings needed health services and emotional support to shelter residents recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Helping to Heal the Spirit after Sandy

“We help make the heart good again.”

Those words went with American Red Cross volunteer Ronald Oliver as he visited Red Cross shelters and distribution centers, as well as streets throughout storm-ravaged areas of Greater New York.

Oliver led the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Team, whose members worked alongside health and mental health staff to address the needs of those affected by Sandy in first month after the hurricane made landfall. Their work complemented the ongoing efforts of Disaster Chaplaincy Services, a local spiritual care group that has partnered with the Greater New York Red Cross for many years.

Spiritual Care Team members visited those who suffered the death of a family member in the disaster. They walked the streets in disaster areas, bringing words of comfort to people sorting through their demolished homes.

A visit to Breezy Point, at the far tip of Rockaway Beach, was heart wrenching. One day, Oliver spoke with two women, each of whose husbands drowned in the rising floodwaters. He looked to give them what words of comfort he could.

At the end of the day, in another neighborhood in Breezy Point, he stopped to speak to a woman who had begun digging through the rubble of her fire ravaged home. She pointed to a charred tree stump nearby.

“The woman had taken part of the stump to her sister’s house. After placing it in water, it started to sprout little green buds,” Oliver said.

The tree bud became a metaphor for her life and his hope.

“We will always remember what happened here,” he said, “be connected to it emotionally and know in some way we made a positive difference.”

Friday, November 30, 2012

Red Cross Responds to Everyday Disasters while Sandy Relief Continues

By Julie Krizen

Although the American Red Cross is in the midst of its Superstorm Sandy response, the largest U.S. disaster response in five years, “routine” disasters continue to occur within the Greater New York Red Cross region.

“While phones are still ringing for Hurricane Sandy, we’re also handling our usual seven to eight disasters a day across New York City, Long Island, the Lower Hudson Valley, Westchester County and Greenwich, Conn,” said Takia Chandler, Greater New York Red Cross emergency communications dispatcher. “We’re multi-tasking. Our emergency communications center runs 365 days, 24 hours a day. As dispatchers we take the information and send out a response unit.”

Red Cross volunteer Jerry Rothstein is one of those responders always ready to answer the call for help, providing assistance for house and apartment fires, building collapses and more.

“Some apartment fires involve large numbers of families,” said Rothstein, “and generally speaking, people have no idea what services the Red Cross provides.”

Rothstein said that when families learn that the Red Cross will give them temporary housing and emergency funds for lost food and clothing, they’re usually surprised and happy.

“Most are just delighted that someone has come out to help them.”

Since Sandy made landfall, the Greater New York Red Cross has assisted more than 500 households affected by everyday disasters like home fires, providing hope, comfort, and support to those affected. Volunteers and donations make this possible. To get help or to help, call 1-877-REDCROSS or go to www.nyredcross.org.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You Guys Make Me So Happy

Most days Inwood Community Center is a place where seniors come to mingle and children come to play. On Oct. 29 it quickly morphed into a much-needed place of refuge. Nine people in total were able to find sanctuary and comfort in the Red Cross supported shelter. One woman, 83-year-old Marguerte Hill, was there for three days due to a power outage.

Mrs. Hill, known to the community as “Mother Hill,” was there supporting her friends as they gathered clothing from the center. A fixture in the neighborhood, Mother Hill said the church that her late husband established 69 years ago had lost power and was forced to cancel most of its anniversary plans scheduled for this week.

Despite her troubles, Mother Hill stayed positive, saying the kosher food delivered by the Red Cross to the Community Center was wonderful and greatly appreciated by the neighborhood it was then delivered to, and that the Red Cross cots and blankets made her stay there comfortable.

Mrs. Hill’s infectious laughter and amazing attitude lit up everyone around her. Upon exiting with cane in hand Mother Hill exclaimed, “You guys make me so happy I could just run!”

In the midst of one of the biggest operations the American Red Cross has ever put on, to hear just one voice stand up and say we made a difference makes the days without sleep and time away from loved ones worth it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ohio Town Youngsters Make Beautiful Music in Manhattan for the Red Cross

After severe thunderstorms and tornadoes devastated Columbus Grove, a town of 2,500 in central Ohio, earlier this year, residents who had received help from around the country—by way of the American Red Cross—wanted to “pass it forward” to those impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

The town’s musical ambassadors delivered that generosity. Before performing a concert in The Atrium at 590 Madison Ave. in New York City, the school’s music department presented a check for $4,250 to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund.

Every other year, the Columbus Grove band and choir, with a total of about 140 teenagers, travels out of state to perform. This year’s field trip to New York City was planned long before Sandy struck.

After seeing the destruction caused by Sandy in this area, the band’s booster club decided to dedicate any extra dollars to the Red Cross. The fundraising then became community-wide, with churches taking special donations and service clubs chipping in. In the end, the donation totaled almost $2 for every adult and child in Columbus Grove.

Chaperone Theresa Murray, whose daughter plays flute and piccolo in the band, has been involved with the fundraising for these trips before. She’s helped with sub sandwich sales, a home-and-garden event and a rock-a-thon when her older children were in the band.

This time, she said, “The response was more than we expected.”

“We hope this is good learning experience for the kids,” added Choir Director Carla Wynak, “that they’ll understand what it means to help others in need.”

After receiving an ovation from Red Crossers for their generosity, the kids turned the tables and applauded the Red Cross.

I spent my birthday in New York

Michael Clark spent his 22nd birthday giving rather than receiving.

An American Red Cross volunteer from Eureka, Calif., Clark came all the way across the country to help deliver meals to people impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Every day—including his birthday, Nov. 11—he would show up first thing in the morning at a field kitchen in Deer Park, N.Y., to load the insulated containers that hold hot food prepared by members of the Southern Baptist Convention.

With directions from his Red Cross dispatcher, he and his crew would head for a stricken Long Island neighborhood, where the familiar red and white truck would deliver food and hope to those trying to put their lives back together.

Back home, Clark works for a Walmart store. When he learned that the Red Cross needed feeding truck drivers, he approached his store manager, who “made it happen” to let Clark go to New York to help others.

Clark prides himself in delivering not only meals, but a laugh to residents in need and co-workers alike.

New York Volunteer Passionate About Helping People

“If you try it just one day, you’d understand.”

That’s how 28-year-old Zullyvette Feliciano describes volunteering with the American Red Cross.

“Most of my friends don’t volunteer at all and they don’t understand,” she said. “But when you see the appreciation in someone’s face that you’ve helped, it’s out of this world.”

Feliciano, who works full time at a New York hospital, has been a volunteer with the Greater New York Red Cross region for more than two years. Her dedication to public service has even driven her to use her own vacation time to help out in times of disaster.

“I went to Catholic school growing up and always had volunteer projects, so it’s always been a part of me,” Feliciano said. “If you have the ability to help, you should.”

As a volunteer with the Greater New York emergency response team, Feliciano helps people affected by everyday disasters like house fires, providing them with food, clothing, lodging, emotional support and other assistance as needed.

“Everyone is always so warm and grateful for what we do,” she said.

When Superstorm Sandy made landfall, Feliciano navigated her way from her home in the Bronx to regional headquarters in Manhattan to help any way she could. Her dedication prompted her to spend the night on a cot in an empty office cubicle on the building’s fourth floor, along with dozens of other Red Cross volunteers. She awoke the next day to continue volunteering.

As part of a Red Cross team, Feliciano began conducting damage assessments in some of the hardest-hit areas. She also drove a mobile feeding truck through the streets of the Rockaways, distributing food to those who had lost their homes.
“Everyone was so happy to see us,” she said.

Feliciano even pitched in and answered phone calls in the emergency communications center at Greater New York headquarters in the weeks following Sandy. At the time, the center was receiving thousands of calls each day.

Feliciano earned her master’s degree in environmental and occupational health sciences in 2009. Today, she is back at her full-time job, but her passion for helping brings her back to the Red Cross almost every Saturday, where she continues to assist those impacted by everyday disasters like house fires.

“I get way more back than what I give,” Feliciano said.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Volunteer Profile: Mike Hoplight

By Robert W. Wallace

Mike Hoplight is a super volunteer for the American Red Cross. So far this year he has been deployed for duty away from his Sanborn, New York, home for a total of 159 days. Currently, he is the Site Manager for the large distribution center on Long Island that provides bulk supplies for persons affected by Hurricane Sandy. He has been in charge of this site for the past 29 days, having arrived well in advance of the storm to receive and be ready to supply needed items for the storm victims.

“I’ve been deploying all my life for various operations, and I’ll be here until this operation is done,” said Hoplight, “but I would like to get home to be with my wife and daughters for Christmas.”

Hoplight is retired from the United States Army and volunteers extensively for the Red Cross: He serves as the Sheltering Lead for the state of New York and also does a great deal of volunteering for Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. Just prior to deploying in support of Hurricane Sandy, Hoplight was in Afghanistan working for the Red Cross.

His current mission involves running the bulk distribution site and coordinating community organizations involved in the recovery effort, such as churches, food pantries, community centers, and in one case, even a home for orphan children. Approximately 100 volunteers are involved in the operation, mostly Red Cross workers, but also other volunteers, including members of the Teamsters Union.

The communities served by the distribution site include, Bay Shore, Lindenhurst, Mastic Beach, Babylon and West Islip New York. Bulk items provided include clean-up kits, bleach, sponges, masks, trash bags, baby food and formula, diapers, wipes, and paper towels.

CERTain Partners

Among a sea of red-clothed volunteers handing out comfort and clean-up kits on Thanksgiving Day in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, one man stood out. In his bright green vest, Devin Cohen, chief of the local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), spent the holiday helping with the Red Cross relief effort, now in its fourth week.

Shortly after Sandy made landfall on Oct.29, Cohen managing a shelter for individuals with function and access needs. Almost three weeks later, he was still responding, this time in one of the hardest hit areas of Brooklyn, where scattered power outages still affect some brownstones, apartment buildings and local businesses.

“These days, it’s block to block,” Cohen said. “I was supposed to spend the day with my family, but we got an email asking us to send teams to help distribute food and supplies, so here I am.”

Since the response began weeks ago, the Red Cross—in partnership with several local and national organizations—has distributed almost four million relief items, including cold weather kits and clean-up supplies. In New York alone last weekend, the Red Cross handed out more than 1.4 million items to people in need.

In the days and weeks following major disasters, it’s not uncommon to see CERT teams working hand-in-hand with Red Cross volunteers. More than 1,100 communities across the United States have local CERT groups, which aim to harness the power of local citizens to support first responders during emergencies. Local CERT volunteers have been trained to help bolster communities’ safety, security and preparedness in the face of natural disasters, among other emergencies.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Andy Harris

Andy Harris is a cyclist, a world traveler, and one of the most dedicated workers at the Miller Field bulk distribution center. This Englishman with a cheery disposition has a fascinating story of how he established himself as an unforgettable Red Cross volunteer.

The 53-year-old backpacked, bicycled, and motor-biked across Europe and Asia, eventually making his way to Houston, Texas, via Mexico. From there he bicycled to North Carolina. After volunteering at a museum for a week, he caught a ride on a pickup truck to Pennsylvania before biking the rest of the way to New York.

Andy has dedicated his life to helping others whenever he can.

His philosophy is, “When you’re down and out, there’s nothing like giving back to make you feel better.”

So once aboard the Staten Island Ferry, he asked around about how to help in Sandy’s aftermath and was advised to join the American Red Cross. That’s just what Andy did, and he hasn’t looked back.

Andy not only volunteers at Miller Field, he sleeps in a tent there as well. He says he would hate to take up a bed that could be given to someone else. One bonus is that his commute is as short as it gets.

“I can just step out of my tent and go right to work!”

Andy’s supervisors say he is one of the hardest working volunteers at the site. Hopefully, this unforgettable volunteer, whose attitude inspires everyone around him, will be with the Red Cross for a long time to come.

Friday, November 23, 2012

High School Students Help People Affected by Superstorm Sandy

More than two dozen members of the Mamaroneck, N.Y., High School Red Cross Club stepped up to help people in their community affected by Superstorm Sandy.

“The club's efforts made a huge impact, and everyone involved has expressed great appreciation for our actions,” said Eli Russ, president of the M.H.S. Red Cross Club.

Superstorm Sandy also affected Red Cross Club members themselves. “Many of us were without electricity or other basic items for up to a week or longer.”

An emergency evacuation shelter was operated at the M.H.S. Post Road gym from the evening of Oct. 28 to the afternoon of Nov. 30 for residents who needed a safe and dry place to sleep and wait out the storm.

The shelter housed about 70 residents at its peak. A warming shelter was also set up on Nov. 2 and housed a handful of overnight residents.

“We proved to be an invaluable asset to our community's sheltering efforts,” said John Dyer, vice president of the M.H.S. Red Cross Club.

Club members assisted with setting up, operating and closing both shelters. They assembled and disassembled about 100 cots and transported dozens of boxes of supplies.

Club members helped registered shelter clients and served as translators for Spanish-speaking residents in addition to distributing meals, snacks, and water to shelter residents.

Photos of the Mamaroneck Red Cross Club in action at the shelters can be seen at http://on.fb.me/VYqFNp.

Volunteer Spotlight: John Saffa

“Volunteering for the Red Cross is just like a second love in my life,” said John Saffa.

The 73-year-old from the American Red Cross Cherokee Chapter in Alabama has been in the organization only a year, but Hurricane Sandy is his fifth national deployment.

Tuesday, Saffa was helping with bulk distribution on Staten Island, providing clean-up supplies and coolers packed with Thanksgiving treats to people without power.

“I like being out with the people,” Saffa said. “They come up and hug you and thank you for being here and missing Thanksgiving with your own family. I feel real honored to be here to do this.”

A friend who volunteered during 9/11 encouraged Saffa to join the Red Cross. When he finally did, Saffa quickly found his place. Between national deployments, he’s made time to complete 27 Red Cross classes.

“The way people in the Red Cross work together is great,” Saffa said. “Everyone I’ve been with on this deployment has been fabulous.”

One person whom Saffa served barely escaped the storm with his life. Fifteen feet of water entered his home and caused his car to flip over. When the water in the house reached the man’s neck, he finally swam out of the house, praying all the way.

“That’s why I give 120 percent,” said Saffa. “I’m out here to help people. The only thing we should be worrying about is the people we’re helping.”

Resting briefly after making his second run for the day, Saffa added, “I’m going to do this ‘til I can’t do it anymore.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tears and Smiles

by  Michele Maki

In a move that speaks of the generosity and kindness within the Manhattan business community, the American Red Cross received a gift of 28,000 jackets to warm the children affected by Superstorm Sandy.

“Our operation was shut down for an entire week.” Sam Haddad, CEO of Haddad Brands explained. “But, when we saw the Red Cross trucks arrive, we knew we had to help. “

Haddad’s generous donation was quickly put to use. Within hours, 400 Red Cross trucks were getting ready to distribute the jackets to children who would otherwise be suffering from the frigid temperatures.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to help our community, especially the children.” Haddad added.

Superstorm Sandy impacted everyone at the Haddad Brands office. Still, putting the needs of children first, was the primary concern for Mr. Haddad and his staff.

“We’re all in this together," he said. "We simply had to help.”

Sunday, Haddad’s gift of warmth reached those who needed it the most-the children of Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, Coney Island. These children and their families have been without heat, electricity and fresh water since Sandy’s landfall nearly two weeks ago.

Squeals of laughter and giggles could be heard throughout the distribution area. Tears of gratitude from mothers, now relieved, knowing their children won’t be shivering from the frigid temperatures any longer were evident everywhere.

“Thank you, thank you.” one tearful mother wept. “God bless you, Red Cross.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Sandy Volunteer Shares His Experiences

Michael Spieth, who lives in Astoria, N.Y. and works as a project manager, became an American Red Cross spontaneous volunteer for Sandy and worked for 72 hours in a Red Cross shelter on Long Island. He wrote a description of his experience that he sent to friends. He gave us permission to share it here.

Hello friends,

Some of you know that I volunteered at a Red Cross shelter on Long Island as part of the disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy. I'd like to share some of these experiences.

I'm very glad I did this. I'm back home after almost three days, having taken the Long Island Rail Road to the Jamaica station and the subway home from there.

You would hardly believe the pace of work at a Red Cross shelter. Every moment is taken up by thinking and acting on a never-ending list of items. I got to sleep three hours twice in that time. I could have gotten more, but one goes into a kind of adrenaline rush and mostly only sleeps when talked into it a few times.

I was made aware of the need for volunteers by a friend. I signed up on Tuesday, Oct. 30, and showed up for training on Wednesday morning ready and packed for three days, as the email had asked. That same afternoon, I was in a van with four others, being driven out to Long Island. I was assigned to a shelter located by Farmingdale, N.Y., in a high school. My first night there, it received 100 people from another shelter closer to the water, which had closed due to lack of electricity. That brought us to about 230 shelter residents total.

The Red Cross had prepositioned a storage container with supplies the Sunday before. The shelter staff took cots, blankets, and many other useful items from there. Parents and community residents also walked in with bags full of donations: clothes, diapers, soap, toiletries. We had boxes of toiletry kits prepared by a Girl Scout troop, and food was often donated from businesses nearby. I expected the shelter would have to close on Sunday to make room for school starting again Monday; they did not know where they'd be transferred to when I left. (Update: The shelter did not move that weekend; on a disaster relief effort, things change all the time.)

One senior lady was there because she needed electricity for her medical device (oxygen, in her case). I was glad to see that she was picked up before I left. There were about five babies and 25 children; the rest were adults. The children stayed with their parents in a separate school gymnasium next to another gymnasium housing adults only.

One of our goals was to create routines, so everyone had some structure to their time in the shelter. If they needed something and we had it, it was theirs.

Volunteers ran the entire site. Our managers were professionals with years of experience in emergency and disaster relief management, and the volunteers all did what they were best at.

While training at the Red Cross we were told two indispensable things: first, be flexible; and second, listen to clients; it helps them.

Listening does help. Many times a resident stopped me and told me their story. One could see their relief to share. I'll add another to this list: three—Let people be people. With so many quirky characters under one roof, the only thing one could do is just take them for who they were—people in need of help, who needed a place to sleep, food to eat, and a hot shower. Many of them had literally lost everything to the flooding. Others just couldn't stay at home because of a lack of electricity, and often because they were dependent on medical devices needing electricity, like oxygen machines.

No point in going into detail on some of the bad luck that these folks have had. Needless to say, if one has to go to a shelter, it's serious.

More volunteers from AmeriCorps, Stonybrook University, JetBlue and others arrived on Thursday and brought much needed help to the team.

A bus from the SPCA housing pets arrived Thursday and pet owners got to spend time with their animals. Ambulances and paramedics from Ohio and Alabama stayed at the school 24/7 to provide extra medical coverage, beside the on-site nurse, who was sent home and replaced after 48 hours of straight work. The school's custodians helped us 24 hours a day with facilities, and police officers were there to keep the peace.

The staff and shelter residents started working together very quickly to manage events like helping clean the cafeteria and the entrance areas. Residents also lent each other phone chargers, watched out for each other's children in the “family” gym.

One kid really stood out. He helped like a champion with anything he could. I’ll call him Brian. He celebrated his 16th birthday in that shelter. The school's custodians found out and got him a cake. Red Cross policy is to never abandon people, and the goal really is to get people connected to their relatives and friends, and to get back to their lives.

Ok, I'm exhausted and on my way to a full night's sleep, after a great, warm, homemade dinner. This was an amazing and moving experience, and I thanked the Red Cross for letting me help. Please consider making a small donation at www.redcross.org

Hope you're all well, and thanks for listening.

Best,

Michael

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Red Cross is Here for You


By Rebecca Nelson

On Veteran’s Day weekend, I had the opportunity to go out into the field alongside fellow Red Cross volunteers and employees to help people devastated by Superstorm Sandy. I was designated a “Site Leader” and assigned to the Rockaways, one of the deeply impacted neighborhoods in Queens. 

Even though I have received daily, comprehensive updates of Sandy’s impact, I was shocked at the magnitude of the storm’s power and the destruction left in its wake – hundred-foot oak trees ripped right from their roots, toppled over like chess pawns; homes and buildings reduced to piles of wood, brick and rubble; homes lucky to still be left standing are silent, dark, and overshadowed by a pile of debris at the curb.  

Upon closer inspection, I saw the debris is actually everything that family had owned, including furniture, clothing, and memories – all destroyed by flood and sewage water; and what is now a familiar but nonetheless troubling sight to all of us: the mile-long queue of people with red gas cans surrounded by police and fatigue-clad service members. 

With 40 dedicated Red Cross volunteers from all areas of the country, we canvassed the neighborhood to let the community know that our mobile feeding vehicles were nearby and stocked with hot food. We distributed thousands of comfort kits with blankets, flashlights and other necessary items.

Most people had been without power for over two weeks, with no light or heat as the days get shorter and the temperatures continue to drop. Most were caring for little kids or elderly parents and neighbors. They were out on a chilly afternoon to find donated blankets, diapers, bottled water—or at the very least, a place to charge their cell phones. 

I expected distress, despair and anger, and while some of these emotions were justifiably present, I was surprised by the amazing display of hope on people’s faces at just a glimpse of my Red Cross jacket. Handing over a Styrofoam tray of BBQ pulled pork with a smile, I was thanked, hugged and blessed. 

I do not have the ability to turn the power back on. What I could offer was a comforting hand on a shoulder and ear to listen to someone’s plight, a hot meal, and access to the resources people desperately needed.

After a heart-wrenching but fulfilling day I drove away from this changed community, taking in the haphazard way cars were parked on the meridian and on the side of the road. They were all abandoned, destroyed from sea water up to their sunroofs. As the twenty minute trip home stretched to almost two hours, we finally came upon the cause of the traffic—a large boat in the middle of Cross Bay Boulevard, left wherever the surge had tossed it. In front someone spray-painted a message on a large wooden plank: “Broad Channel – The Forgotten Town.” 

I know after hearing everyone’s stories that this is the way it feels. But to Broad Channel, the Rockaways, Staten Island, Long Beach, and all of the other towns and people whose lives have been forever changed by Sandy, you are not and have never been forgotten. 

The Red Cross has been here since the beginning. We are giving out hundreds of thousands of meals, clean-up and comfort items each day. And we will be here for as long as we are needed, powered by the spirit of kind volunteers who dedicate their time, and the amazing generosity of people and businesses who donate crucial funds to support our work.

I have never been more proud to be a part of something as I am of being a Red Crosser.  I feel deeply fortunate to work with generous and dedicated people and companies that have made incredible donations and sacrifices of time. 

It makes our work possible, and that work really does change lives. I want to extend a simple thank you to all the volunteers who have helped and are helping, and to everyone who has generously donated to the Red Cross. You are making a difference in thousands of lives.

Rebecca Nelson works in the development department of the Greater New York Red Cross region.


 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Losing the roof of his house to Hurricane Andrew motivated Roberto Baltodano to become a Red Cross volunteer

By Gemma Haywood

Miami Red Cross volunteer Roberto Baltodano’s first experience with the Red Cross was as a recipient of Red Cross aid during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. When Andrew hit South Florida, the roof of Baltodano’s South Dade house was destroyed.

With no work for two to three weeks due to a post-Andrew power outage, rather than sit at home doing nothing, Baltodano joined the Red Cross as a volunteer Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) driver.

“I remember an ERV coming to our neighborhood and feeding us the meals that we’re feeding today in New York,” he said. “So I’ve been on the other side of that window. I was a client.”

When Baltodano was laid off a year and a half ago after 25 years in the financial services sector, he decided to increase his involvement with the Red Cross and become a full-time volunteer in Miami, specializing in disaster mass care, or feeding.

When the East Coast went on alert for Hurricane Sandy, Baltodano was part of an advance team stationed around the NY region, ready to coordinate the deployment of Red Cross ERVs in the wake of Sandy.

After the storm, Red Cross vehicles were deployed to the New York region from across the US. Some of the first to arrive were from Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. As the full scale of the disaster became clear, the Red Cross’s full, nationwide contingent of 320 emergency vehicles were sent to the storm-hit region; 180 are now in operation in the New York area.

Baltodano’s first role in the relief effort was to coordinate sending six Red Cross vehicles, stocked with 57,000 heater meals, to Long Island—one of the first meal deliveries of the relief operation.

Baltodano has been on the job for almost three weeks now, and recently became involved in the procurement side of the relief operation. He visited a shelter in Bohemia, N.Y., which was housing around 50 to 80 local residents. While cots and blankets were well stocked, food and other supplies were running low. Baltodano arranged for milk, oranges, essential foods and baby supplies such as Pampers, to be delivered.

A spooky Halloween

Three weeks on a disaster relief operation brings a variety of experiences. At the beginning, many Red Cross volunteers were staying in shelters.

“There were two of us sleeping at a high school the first day,” Baltodano recalled. He said it was spooky staying all alone in a high school around Halloween.

After that, Baltodano spent several nights in a staff shelter, moving to a hotel when he began working out of Greater NY Red Cross HQ in Manhattan.

“For the most part though,” he said, “our ERV teams and the people working in the kitchens are staying in staff shelters.”

Having a hot dog in New York; it’s something normal

Twenty years of Red Cross experience means that Baltodano has seen the organization develop.

“When I began we didn’t have the quality of food we have today,” he said. “We had MREs; military ready-to-eat meals.”

Today, the Red Cross works hard to provide meals that will make people feel comfortable and remind them of home. The inclusion of salads and vegetables ensures that meals are healthy. A few days ago here in New York, the Red Cross was serving up hot dogs.

“We adapt our meals to each region.” Baltodano explained. “We need to help people get back to normal. And having a hot dog in New York; it’s something normal.”

On this relief operation Baltodano finds it rewarding to sharing the knowledge he’s gained through the years with new Red Cross volunteers. Baltodano explained to the many new ERV drivers that they would see a lot of emotions during the days ahead and that people would be crying on their shoulders. He advised his new colleagues to visualize such situations ahead of time so that they would be mentally prepared.

“It allowed them to be stronger and to be able to help the client,” he said. “Not only be handing them a plate of food, but being the pillar of strength they needed to be.”

The importance of preparedness
 
The most important message that Baltodano would like to get across is the importance of preparedness.

“Whether it’s for a fire that happens every nine minutes across the U.S., or for a hurricane that may not happen for the next 100 years, you should always be prepared," he said. "And to be involved in volunteer work is the best way to learn preparedness."

Baltodano has just signed on for another three weeks of Red Cross Sandy relief work.

To learn more about his work with the Red Cross, follow him on Twitter at @Twittnrob.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Six Strangers, One Mission

It was 11 am and the sun was attempting to pierce through the foggy sky in Lido Beach, Long Island. With a huge smile on her face, Faye Lagares of Queens, N.Y., began loading food, water and comfort kits filled with blankets, trash bags and other items into Red Cross vehicles.

Faye, who works for Citibank, is a brand new volunteer. Citibank’s volunteer program is dedicated to connecting their employees with volunteer opportunities in their communities.

“A request came in for around 50 volunteers and in a matter of hours every slot was filled,” said Faye. “Many of our employees were affected [by Sandy] and I just felt I needed to do something.”

Jessica Fleurimond from Philadelphia, Steve Brown from Texas, Giselle Gomez from California, Kabir Tombat, an AmeriCorps member currently working with the Greater New York Red Cross region, and Joel Greenberg, a Red Cross Long Island board member all joined Faye, going door to door throughout Lido Beach distributing meals and supplies.

One of the team’s main goals was to reach senior citizens living in high-rise apartments who still did not have power. At each building, the group divided into teams of two, going to floor-to-floor and ensuring that all residents received food, water, blankets and supplies.

“It was just truly incredible how we all quickly came together to help,” said Giselle Gomez. “At the end of the day, we were not strangers, but instead a family.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Red Cross Offers Health Care Assistance in the Wake of Sandy

Zamia Garcia sits as American Red Cross volunteer John Griffiths, an EMT from Rochester, New York, checks her blood pressure. She said she was glad to know she had nothing to worry about. Zamia was among thousands of New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Zamia Garcia was busy picking up clothing and food at the Coney Island distribution site where the American Red Cross was among several relief agencies offering assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

She was among hundreds of Coney Island resident who passed by the Red Cross table where registered nurses, EMTs and mental health counselors waited to help the steady stream of people passing by. She stopped and asked about whether they could check on her blood pressure.

John Griffiths, an EMT from Rochester, New York and Red Cross volunteer, led Zaima to a chair where he applied the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope to her arm to check her blood pressure. He told her the blood pressure reading which Zamia said she was relieved to know.

Myrna Sullivan, a registered nurse who came from St. Louis as a Red Cross volunteer, provided nutritional counseling and assurances regarding her diet. That is normal in this situation because you have been under stress, she explained and Zaima said she felt relieved to hear that. Myrna said the main concerns the health care workers have seen include blood pressure, diabetes and asthma, all conditions often made worse by a great amount of stress such as what thousands of New Yorkers have endured since Sandy.

Health care workers also walked around talking to people waiting in line to see if they had any issues needing immediate attention.

In some cases, people couldn't refill needed prescriptions because their pharmacies were damaged or destroyed by the storm. In those cases, the Red Cross works with the people to connect with another pharmacy. In addition to health care, Red Cross volunteers also provided hot meals and distributed to nearby residents laundry bags filled with such items as a blanket, flashlight and batteries, packages of towels and hand sanitizers.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Kuhlmann

Jim Kuhlmann is the manager of the American Red Cross Kitchen No. 1, operating in the Home Depot parking lot on Staten Island, but that doesn’t mean he spends his days slaving over a hot stove. Jim is in charge of getting meals prepared, loaded onto Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) and sent out each day to the thousands of people rebuilding their lives from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

When an ERV arrives in any given neighborhood, many people line up to get hot meals, snacks and water. At times, people are reduced to tears when handed their hot meals and they thank the Red Cross volunteers for helping them.

It’s this kind of scene that makes Jim feel like he is really in the people helping business.

“The whole purpose of this is to serve the client,” said the Wichita resident, now on his 12th Red Cross deployment. His first deployment was as an ERV driver after Katrina.

Those working with Jim praise his quiet, deliberate manner in running the operations which includes loading some two dozen ERVs with 8,000 to 10,000 lunches and dinners each day for delivery to those in need.

As the ERVs line up to receive supplies at the various pallets, Jim watches as the vehicles move in and out of the area and is satisfied with what he sees. The goal is to have all of them loaded and on their way within an hour.

Near the large trailers parked with various items destined for distribution is the area where the food is cooked by members of the Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers.

Jim’s boss is Steve Ade, of Salina, Kansas, the mass care (feeding) chief who oversees four kitchen operations, including the one on Staten Island.

Steve said, “He runs it like a sewing machine. Any Red Cross disaster response I’m on, I want Jim running the kitchen.”

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