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pleaseantville-halloween-5Looking back on the events two years ago when Superstorm Sandy was covering the almost the entire eastern Atlantic Ocean, I remember feeling astonished that the storm would actually turn toward the coast and make landfall in New Jersey. Hurricanes come north, of course, but not often and not with such threatening power. Were we ready? I suspected we weren’t, because how could we be? We tend to be “ready” for events we have already experienced. Sandy was unprecedented. Still, it was incredibly comforting to be a volunteer for the Red Cross. These were the folks who knew how to prepare and they were on the job.

I wrote, soon after the storm, about a friend who had texted me “Thank goodness for the Red Cross.”  Yes, indeed, for so many reasons. Here’s the rest of my 2012 blog post:

“What a week it’s been. Our job is to take care of the important stuff: shelter, food, comfort, survival. Currently, the Red Cross is sheltering close to 9,000 people in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. Wow. . . Locally, close to 200 people (196) and 19 pets stayed the night in local SEPA Red Cross shelters in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia Counties.

When I was in our offices last Thursday, I peeked in on a meeting of disaster preparedness personnel on the potential for a large hurricane to incapacitate the East Coast early the following week. At that point, the encounter between Sandy and the coast of New Jersey was still purely hypothetical and only one model was suggesting the storm would not turn safely out to sea. Even so, our staff was taking the situation seriously and beginning to make the preparations necessary to provide support and shelter should the worst case scenario occur. Thank goodness they did.

Needless to say, we’ve been moderately busy since then. At the height of the storm, we were ready with 14 shelters set up in five counties. We hosted a phone bank to answer storm related questions at a local television station. Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, a Hurricane App and several media appearances by our CEO, Judge Renée Hughes, shared vital information with the citizens of Southeastern, Pennsylvania. We helped people prepare and they did. We encouraged them to “shelter in place” by staying home, staying off the streets and letting our public officials do their jobs. People listened and we made it through this.

For those forced to evacuate, we provided warmth with blankets, food, shelter and the companionship of volunteers and others in the same situation. We take comfort seriously and believe it helps everyone weather the storm. And with comfort in mind, we are proud to say that Halloween celebrations went ahead for several of our younger shelter residents at a shelter in Pleasantville, NJ. “

I remember feeling so moved by these Halloween festivities. It’s so important to help children feel a sense of normalcy when their entire world has been disrupted. I was proud to be a Red Cross volunteer on that day, and I still am.

Volunteering with the American Red Cross these last three years has been a great experience for me. When I first became a volunteer, I was unemployed and looking for something to keep me busy until I was able to find a job. Now that I have a job, I still continue to volunteer on a weekly basis. Just about every Tuesday afternoon you can find me in the Communication Pod (CommPod as its come to be known) on the 5th floor. I have a background in English with some journalism experience, and the communications department has been a perfect fit for me. I have written several posted blogs, press releases, captions for pictures, research on various topics and many other things. I enjoy being able to use my experience in a useful and rewarding way.  As I am making my way to the CommPod, if I am not spotted first, I usually stop and talk to all the wonderful people I have gotten to know.

rco_blog_img_jenniferOver the years, my volunteering has expanded beyond the CommPod. I sometimes call myself the 5th floor volunteer because, at times, my help has been needed all over the floor. For about a month after Hurricane Sandy, I came in several days a week to help with anything that needed to be done. I not only got to see first hand all the different services that the Red Cross provides when a disaster occurs, but I actually contributed to the success of these services. I feel proud of my volunteer efforts during that difficult time. I can also be found helping out on the 4th floor in the Volunteer Department with various things.

When I am here volunteering, it gives me such a warm feeling inside knowing that I am helping a great organization and that my work is well appreciated. Every Tuesday, I look forward to coming, and when I am not here, I can’t wait to come back. When I am gone for a few weeks and return, I am often told how much I was missed, which also makes me feel good. The most important reason why I continue to volunteer is seeing the difference that volunteering makes in the lives of those affected by a disaster whether you are in the field or working behind the scenes.

— Posted by Jennifer Ingram, Communications Volunteer for the Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania

When you work for the Red Cross you learn very quickly to be ready for anything. That was my first lesson when I started here; it just happened to be the same day Superstorm Sandy struck our region.

Most folks when they start a new position have some idea of how their first day will go. I had no idea what to expect since this was not only my first day on the job but my first time dealing with a hurricane. Being from Texas I was well versed in what to do in a tornado but hurricanes were out of my league.

In spite of my apprehension, I knew that this storm was an “all-hands-on-deck” situation and I didn’t want to let anyone down my first day on the job. On the morning of October 29, 2012 I found myself driving very slowly and carefully to our offices in Philadelphia.

Once there I discovered that a lot of the staff had decided to stay at the chapter overnight. Preparations for Sandy had been made several days in advance throughout our region and I was astounded at the level of preparation and dedication everyone showed. Without hesitation my colleagues were ready to face whatever Sandy was going to throw at them and I was so inspired.

rco_blog_img_SEPACotsThroughout that day and the weeks and months after Sandy I continued to be amazed and honored to work with such incredible individuals. The workers of the American Red Cross are persistent and hard-working. Whatever the need they roll up their sleeves until the job is done. My first day on the job was the best orientation I could have had. I saw first-hand the importance of what we do. We represent the very best of what the American people are capable of when our sleeves are up, our hearts are open, and we’re all in.

Now, one year later, I’m still in awe of what we were able to accomplish that day and what we continue to do every day. Whether it’s Sandy or the 3-5 fires that happen almost nightly in this region the Red Cross is there and I’m glad I’m a part of it.

Michelle Wigianto is major gifts associate for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania,
who began as a volunteer. Her first day as a paid employee was the day Sandy struck.

Back in October of last year, I had just moved into a new role at American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania when I heard about a hurricane approaching the East Coast. When it became clear that the “superstorm” would impact the Philadelphia area, I remember frantically sending out emails to friends, family, and Red Cross partners urging them to take the storm seriously and make preparations. (The Red Cross offers a wealth of great preparedness information  – that I was able to share.) I also went about readying my own home – making sure I had all the necessary disaster supplies and bringing outside furniture indoors.

rco_blog_img_SandyPhonebank

On Sunday evening, Oct. 28, I participated in a Red Cross phone bank on NBC 10, answering calls from viewers seeking information about shelter locations, storm precautions, and much more. It felt great to take part in this effort with our volunteers and to help our region prepare.

I remember that the weather was worsening when I drove home from NBC’s studio that night. On the day Sandy struck, Oct. 29, I went into work to participate in disaster update meetings. Our development team came up with plans for reaching out to donors, but we were also called on to assist with shelters in all five counties we serve. (I previously served as a government liaison at an office of emergency management during Hurricane Irene.)

My sister, home from work, was calling me all day telling me that the weather was getting worse and I should really get home. My boyfriend came to pick me up because he was so concerned about me driving in the dangerous conditions. Many roads were closed by that point, so we drove very slowly and carefully on highways in order to get home. When we arrived, I began to see the heartbreaking images of devastation up and down the East Coast. Shortly after, we lost power. Fortunately, my house had a generator that powered key lights, systems, and appliances, but it was very dark, very few outlets functioned, and there was no Internet or cable.

I brought my disaster kit and flashlight with me to bed that night. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t immediately determine the damage inflicted on my area of Montgomery County. I tried to venture out, and I discovered that roads were blocked by downed trees and power lines. I worked from home and made phone calls all day to Red Cross partners asking if they were ok and requesting support.

I was able to return to work the next day (even though my home’s power would be out for the next week), and that’s when the true Sandy chaos began for me. Our department was inundated with people wanting to help. The absolute best thing about working for the American Red Cross is seeing the way Americans open up their hearts — and wallets — during our country’s darkest hours. It is remarkable and so heartening. The only down side is that our department consists of only about 15 people to handle thousands of calls, emails, gifts, events, etc.

My main role during the Sandy response was helping with the huge influx of third party fundraisers. It was absolutely amazing to hear from so many schools, businesses, retailers, and community groups that wanted to hold events to benefit Red Cross Disaster Relief. Working out the details of these events, coordinating marketing materials and volunteers to attend, counting the funds raised (sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of change), and attending thank you presentations was exhausting but incredible.

These events lasted for months. Even though Sandy occurred at the end of October, we felt like we were still in the throes of it in February. Then came the weeks when our entire department had to stop what we were doing to catch up on data processing and gift entry in order to distribute delayed tax acknowledgment letters and deliver overdue “thank yous.” In times of disaster, it is impossible to not fall behind and we are never able to personally thank as many people as we’d like, but we tried our hardest!

Working for the development department here in Southeastern Pennsylvania during the Red Cross’ response to Superstorm Sandy was an experience I’ll never forget. It was challenging but also very rewarding. I was proud to work for the Red Cross, an organization that did such a great job of not only preparing people for the storm but also responding to emergency needs and getting those affected on the road to recovery (as it continues to do). Also, I will always remember the outpouring of support from our region. It is indescribably inspiring to see such compassion in a world that often seems so dark and full of destruction. Never more than during Superstorm Sandy did generous Red Cross donors and volunteers bring hope.

Victoria Genuardi is a major gifts officer for Chester County and has worked for the Red Cross for about two and a half years. 

Mindy PinkusSubmitted by Disaster Volunteer, Mindy Pinkus

Super Storm Sandy arrived for me actually a few days prior to the storm. I was busy preparing my family for the brunt of the storm. I knew that I would not be home with my family during for the storm. I knew that I would be busy doing something for the Red Cross. I had know idea what that busy was, I just knew what that I would be busy, in fact very busy.

The phone rang and the caller ID announced that SEPA was calling.  So, I picked up the phone and Leo Pratte, Director of Emergency Services was on the other end. He proceeded to ask if I would accept the managers position for Disaster Assessment (DA) for the Chapter. He told me to be prepared to leave, and that I would be staying at HQ for the duration and aftermath of the storm.

Wow, was I excited and extremely nervous at the same to time. Leo told me be at Chapter Sunday morning before the storm hit on Monday. So, I ran around like crazy buying this and that. I needed to know that my family was  prepared for the storm so that I could feel good about leaving my loved ones at home without me. Ok SEPA… ready or not here I come. After all, I had prepared myself for this, taking class after class and having had the knowledge and practical experience from my many many National Deployments!

Sunday arrived and off to Chapter I go… When I got to Chapter I found out who the other Managers were and realized that I was the only Manager at HQ that was a volunteer. OMG, now I was officially was shaking in my boots. After a pep talk to myself I stepped up and started to develop a plan of action. I said to myself, “Wow, I think I can do this.” I then had the realization I can do this and that I will do this. I was off and running…

I recruited teams, developed my plan of action, and delegated responsibilities. I very quickly trained my DA teams and sent them out to hit the streets to find and record the damage. They worked diligently at the task and did a wonderful job! I was so proud of my teams. Without them the damage could not have been documented!!! Thank you, teams…

I worked very long hours, slept at chapter on a cot, spent many nights sleeping at the Red Cross House, typed reports and sent my DA Teams out to hit the streets of our five counties.

I was so thankful for Leo having the confidence in me and allowing me the privilege of leading a team of wonderful volunteers. They gave their time and left their families to volunteer with SEPA andserve their communities. This was an amazing experience for me and one that I will not forget. Thank you, Leo and thank you Red Cross for the opportunity to serve!

I’ve never really known the huge impact a hurricane can have on a community until Hurricane Sandy this past October. It was devastating to see people lose their homes to the storm. It never affected me when I was little, but it definitely does now. When you’re younger your parents do everything for you, think and act on your behalf, and you just follow their lead. Now that I’m 20 years old and living on my own, I’ve come to realize I am not prepared for the fast-approaching hurricane season, and would not know what to do in case of an emergency. Not only is it National Hurricane Preparedness Week, but Hurricane season officially begins June 1st and runs through November 30thThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)predicts an active season. NOAA estimates between 7 and 11 Atlantic hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), potentially above average. This definitely caught my attention and is making me take the steps to be fully prepared this upcoming season.

There are Red Cross ready online tools, a downloadable app and web-based training modules available. Preparing ahead of time is the best way to be ready for any emergency or weather disaster.

With the hurricane season nearby, it is important to prepare early and make sure everything you need is available and ready. The Red Cross encourages three simple steps for at-home preparedness. They are, get a kit, make a plan, and stay informed.

The kit should comprise of gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for an infant if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information.  All of these tips and advice can be found on the American Red Cross website,

(NBC 10 reporter Tim Furlong detailed some of this during a recent live shot in Ventnor, NJ.)

Following that advice is what I’ll be doing to get ready for this upcoming Hurricane season. Staying informed is important, and you should be aware of the community evacuation plan, local shelters nearby, but also be aware of flooding in nearby areas. For families, preparing for a Hurricane is a little different, in that the amount of supplies increases and there is a need to sit down as a family and make a plan, so everyone understands what to do in case of emergency. Keeping up with the emergency information is very important during Hurricane season, and when a Hurricane hits, it is important to have a battery powered radio accessible.

Another way to get prepared, and a more convenient way, is to use the American Red Cross Hurricane app. It is full of everything you need to stay prepared during a Hurricane. There is a toolkit with a flashlight, strobe light, alarm, and there is also an “I’m Safe” option, which allows you to post to social media websites of your safety. There are also Prepare, Test, Hurricanes, Shelters, and More tabs, which all provide information on what to know during a Hurricane, and how to handle emergency situations. The Prepare tab has a Right Before section, a During, After, Plan Ahead, and Make a Plan section, so you’re always ready. There is an active storm tracker and shelter map, showing where all the nearby shelters are during disaster relief. The App is a great way to access information on your smartphone and will be more than useful this upcoming hurricane season; I know I’ve already downloaded it!

– Written by Erin McGinn

Volunteer

We’re fast approaching the 4th holiday since Super Storm Sandy smacked the eastern seaboard.

11.12.12_NYC_Trip 037Affected residents, business owners and city, state and federal officials have been cleaning up through Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and now through Christmas and New Years.

All the while, Red Cross volunteers have been there to support response, recovery and relief efforts. This is the largest response for the organization in 5 years and so far, the Red Cross has served more than 9 million meals and snacks, handed out more than 6.7 million relief items including cold weather items and clean up supplies, provided more than 103,000 health services and emotional support contacts for people living in very rough conditions and connected with more than 93,000 families and individuals to determine longer term recovery needs.

Here, in Southeastern Pennsylvania, we have been doing our part to assist this on-going response. We have deployed more than 30 volunteers and employees to New York and New Jersey to serve in a variety of ways. Some spent Halloween, Thanksgiving and/or Hanukkah away from family and loved ones to help provide comfort and relief to residents still recovering from Sandy.

MarcHenley

Just this week, our volunteer, Marc Henley packed his big red bag, put his finger aside of his nose and up to New York he rose to help spread some holiday cheer to families desperately in need. Marc specializes in Disaster Mental Health and will truly spread holiday cheer by providing emotional support to families over the Christmas holiday. When I saw that he was leaving, I couldn’t help but wonder if Old Saint Nick himself was playing a little trick on us and sending Marc on a very important mission. You see, Santa is a very busy elf this time of year and won’t have time to visit with families and provide hugs and a shoulder to lean on. He must be on his way to provide toys for all of the world’s good boys and girls, but Marc will be in New York to provide those hugs, the strong shoulder and time to support families still reeling from the trauma they’ve endured.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll think of Marc and our 4 other local volunteers spending the Christmas holiday in New York as I hang my stockings and set presents under my tree. I’ll think about how they will all be providing comfort, support and hopefully smiles to families and, for Marc, especially to a few little boys and girls in need of a longer visit from a jolly old elf.

Happy Holidays!