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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.

Does your home have a working fire alarm?  Do you have an escape plan in the event of a fire?  Did you remember to turn off the stove?

Growing up in the suburbs near Trenton, New Jersey, I found questions like this a nuisance because fires in my area were a rare event.   It was not until I began school at Temple University that I started to appreciate why my school engraved fire safety tips into our minds.  During my years at Temple, I would often hear a sound unfamiliar to me when I lived in the suburbs; the sound of a fire truck siren.  To my surprise, it was not uncommon to see a fire truck racing down Broad Street three, four times a week.  Now, working at the Red Cross as an AmeriCorps NPRC member, I’ve seen first-hand the effects of fires on the people of Philadelphia and the importance of fire safety.

Firefighters and damage 3

 

September was National Preparedness Month, and one of the things we all need to prepare for is fires.  Fire is an unforgiving chemical process that will continue to spread and be fatal if not accounted for.  Of the 74,000 disasters Red Cross responded to this past year, 93 percent of them were fire related.  In fact, fire kills more Americans each year then all the natural disasters combined.  As National Fire Safety Month begins, it is essential for everyone to take steps to help protect their homes and the people they care about.

Common house hold items are often a source of fire; anything from the stove in the kitchen to the space heater used to warm up the house during those cold winter nights are all potential fire hazards.  Even things we cannot see like the wiring behind the wall can cause fires.  It is important to learn more about these items in order to prevent fires from occurring.

The most important way to help save lives in the event of a fire is that first alert to a problem.  This is why it is essential to install and maintain all smoke alarms throughout the house.  Smoke alarms can help notify people a fire is occurring and help them escape before the fire spreads to all available exits in the house. The next thing you must do is have and practice your escape plan. In fact, the Red Cross recommends having at least two ways out of every room in your house.  At Temple, that meant investing in a fire ladder for myself. My second way out was through a third story window, so I had a ladder ready, just in case.

Preparing and planning for fires can protect what you love most.  Please take the time to visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire to learn more about fires in order to prevent them and prepare for them in the event that a fire does occur in your home.

Wayne Sundmacher

Wayne Sundmacher with American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania CEO, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes on the day of his donation.

The following is an account of an auspicious meeting between Red Cross donor, Wayne Sundmacher, and Red Cross volunteers shopping for non-perishable food items at a BJ’s Club store in Hamilton, New Jersey. At the spur of the moment, Wayne stepped up to cover a substantial bill for Red Cross supplies to be distributed to residents affected by Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey at the cash register.

He says:

After having spent four days without electricity or hot water, our lights came back on early Saturday morning.  That’s just an inconvenience, and nothing compared to our friends who lost their home.  My wife and I felt very lucky to have only lost some roof shingles, some food from our refrigerator and our electricity for four days. 

As a State employee, I had some involvement in emergency management and was painfully aware of the plight of those left homeless by the storm.  I was also aware of the great volunteer response by organizations like the Red Cross, and how they were endeavoring to meet the needs of thousands of people affected by the storm.

On Sunday morning November 4th, I was shopping at BJ’s Club in Hamilton, NJ, restocking perishable food items that we had lost during the power outage.  I was surprised to find the aisles crowded with American Red Cross volunteers, scurrying about, collecting case after case of non-perishable food items.  Their enthusiasm was inspiring, and I wanted to find some way to help, but also didn’t want to distract them from the important work they were doing.

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staff and volunteers shop for food and supplies at BJs in Hamilton, NJ on Nov. 4, 2012

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staff and volunteers shop for food and supplies at BJs in Hamilton, NJ on Nov. 4, 2012 on their way to Northern NJ and New York City

When I arrived at the check-out, I turned to find Red Cross volunteers with several flat-bed carts, waiting in line behind me.  My only thought was, “What can I do to help?”  Certainly, the volunteers weren’t set up top take a donation, so I did the next best thing.  I approached the young man behind me, with an offer to pay for the first $100 worth of food items they rang up. 

BJS photo 1While I thought my $100 offer would go a long way, the very first case of food the Red Cross was purchasing rang up at $214.    Sometimes, you just have to go with your heart, and not consider your wallet.  Rather than try to split up the purchase, I just told the cashier I would pay the full cost of that case of food.  I cannot tell you how good it made me feel, to know that food I had just purchased would be distributed to someone in desperate need, that very day.  And the cost?  Well, that’s a couple less dinners out, and a few weeks without doughnut shop coffee.  I think that’s pretty easy to bear.
– Wayne Sundmacher

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Here’s a link to a great post on Wayne’s Facebook page where he challenges friends to make a donation of their own to help the efforts of the American Red Cross in New Jersey.

We are incredibly touched by his generosity and second him in encouraging others to follow his example. Thanks Wayne!

By the way, over the course of the weekend of November 3-4, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania sent 17 teams of volunteers to New York City and Jersey City to distribute food and  and water. In all, our teams distributed more than 48,000 food items and 20,000 bottles of water to residents in New York and Jersey City. (More photos here. Scroll to second half of set to see the store and distribution pictures.) This was just a small part of the large-scale response by the American Red Cross to Superstorm Sandy.

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