By Bill Tucker
The American Red Cross has joined with national and state partners to undertake a massive response to Hurricane Sandy, with a mission to prevent further human suffering and to alleviate any suffering that is still occurring. For the Southwestern New York Chapter this response began the Wednesday prior to the storm, when we began coordinating with local government and community partners to prepare shelters in the event that flooding should occur anywhere in the north, central, or southern parts of our county. We identified 10 standby shelters, alerted our local volunteers, and pre-positioned equipment. On the night of the storm we opened and staffed a shelter at Silver Creek Central School as the creek began to rise. Local volunteers Charlie Meder, Mary Walker, Patty Hartinger, Jeanie Shiffer, and Fran Heath were on hand throughout the night to provide shelter, food, and other support to anyone who might need it. Fortunately, no evacuations were required and, locally at least, we began to breathe a sigh of relief.
By the next day, however, we had begun to see the impact of this storm on the coast. The mobilization and deployment of our volunteers, which had begun before the storm, kicked into high gear again. Our local and regional Chapter organizations worked tirelessly to move over 30 volunteers from Western New York (11 from right here in SWNY) to the affected areas. I was one of those who volunteered to help, and was immediately told to depart for the Greater New York area. By the afternoon of November 1st I found myself hard at work in a shelter in Deer Park, Long Island, where we had over 120 clients residing. I spent six days there, and then moved with our clients and staff to a larger shelter about 20 miles away. This shelter now has nearly 200 clients and the staff members required to support them, and we are also providing meals, snacks, water and other drinks, health services, and mental health services to those affected, many of whom have lost everything.
The stories our clients tell are all different, yet in some ways they are all the same. They all involve loss; in some cases the loss of cherished routines and a sense of security, in others the loss of all material possessions and any sense of connection to the community, or even to the world. The best thing that we as Red Cross volunteers do is listen to people, hear their stories, talk to them, provide what additional support we can, and in the end, just lend a shoulder to lean on.
Getting supplies, meals, and water to those affected by this storm is the top priority, and the numbers tell an amazing story about this effort. As of November 8th we have deployed 5800 trained Red Cross disaster responders to operations from Virginia to Rhode Island, with the majority in Greater New York and New Jersey. We have provided over 61,000 overnight stays in more than 250 shelters, served over 3.3 million meals and snacks, and distributed more than 124,000 clean-up kits and hygiene kits. Your help is urgently needed to ensure we can continue our relief efforts. If you can, I ask that you do just two things:
1. Donate money to your local Chapter (325 East Fourth Street, Jamestown, NY), or to www.redcross.org, or to 1-800-redcross, or text the word “redcross” to 90999. Your money will support our disaster relief operations, both locally and during national response events.
2. Donate blood. Hurricane Sandy has caused the cancellation of hundreds of blood drives throughout the northeast, and this has had an impact on our national blood supply. Whether it is here in Chautauqua County, at your grandchild’s college in the Midwest, or at your favorite vacation spot in the South, you never know when you may need Red Cross blood should you or your loved ones encounter a medical emergency. Help us keep the nation’s blood supply at the required levels by donating today. To find the nearest blood drive, please call us at 664-5115, or go to www.redcross.org and click on “give blood.”
Bill Tucker is the Executive Director of the American Red Cross of Southwestern New York, a trained Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer, and a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) instructor. He deployed to the Greater New York area on October 31st as part of the Hurricane Sandy relief effort, and is currently working in a mass care shelter in the Greater New York area.