Archive

Tag Archives: Sandy relief

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.

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. 

American Red Cross Disaster Action Team Leader and Disaster Mental Health Specialist Danelle Stoppel is always on the short list of those to be sent to assist with national Red Cross responses. She’s referred to around our chapter as “Deployment Danelle.” She recently deployed to New York to assist with the Sandy response by providing essential mental health services to folks dealing with the aftermath of the superstorm.

Below is a compilation of messages and photos Danelle texted to our Director of Communications. It will be updated periodically until her return.

November 16

Arrived at Manhattan (Greater New York) Chapter Headquarters. It was wonderful to meet up with people I have worked with on other DRs (Disaster Responses). I have been assigned to the borough of Queens which includes several hard-hit areas. I will be meeting with my team tonight and tomorrow we have been assigned to the bulk distribution sites throughout our area. The atmosphere at Headquarters was upbeat, but for those who have been here for several weeks report they are exhausted and due to very low drives to and from work sites and desperate conditions in the hard hit areas.

June from Far Rockaway. she lost everything in her home to Sandy. All she really needs is a good pair of boots. Strong woman from Jamaica who made her home here 22 years ago. she loved to work with the elderly and is truly inspirational.

Bulk distribution teams are now going door to door delivering clean up kits in Far Rockaway. We are working in teams with nurses as 1475 start coming in.

Spontaneous volunteers with car loads of clothes, etc. helping anyone in need in Far Rockaway.

Door to door clean up kits are being delivered to Rockaway residents. I am now working with bulk distribution on a team with nurses and mental health specialists.

I can’t talk about individual people, but it is very sad. People look like they have been in a war zone. I love being on the ground with real people. I miss everyon.

SEPA Volunteers Anthony and Ben with our ERV which have been serving meals and distributing items to those affected by Sandy in NY.

Tomorrow, I return to the same distribution site. Due to the lack of housing options, we are staying in Manhattan, only 20 miles from the worst natural disaster to hit New York. Being downtown close to Times Square, it’s hard to imagine that such widespread disaster exists. the leadership in NYC has made it easier for the Red Cross to function. Our vehicles do not pay tolls and there is a facility where we can fill up our vehicles for no cost. Our hotel is parking our vehicles at no cost. The amount of people focused on this disaster is evident in all areas of the city. The respect for the American Red Cross is evident when you speak with people and so many people have gone out of their way to thank me.

November 17

Saw Clifton (SEPA COO) this morning. He looked well rested and was attempting to control the crowd of people trying to out-process (leave the job). 

I am working with a young man from Kentucky. He was emailed a newsletter from the American Association of marriage and family therapists asking for volunteers to work with the Red Cross. He applied and was quickly approved and arrived in New York City four days later. Talk about fast-tracked and bringing good people into the Red Cross…

November 18

Today, I partnered with an international agency called Heart to Heart and delivered mental health services to their clients. Many did not speak English and I interpreted for them. This part of Queens is home to many nationalities and cultures. Many families from Guatemala, Mexico and Puerto Rico sought medical advice due to lack of electricity which destroyed their daily supply of insulin. I heard a very comment that no one could believe this could happen in New York. Many people stayed in their homes until the water reached their porch. Perhaps the most distressing aspect is the impact of Sandy on senior citizens here and in New Jersey. Losing their homes and all their belongings has impacted them physically, economically and emotionally.

November 23

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, but not in Coney Island.  Some areas have no stores open.  The people depend heavily on the Red Cross for one meal a day.  There are many people of Russian descent who do not speak English.

November 25

Each day is a challenge and yesterday and today were more profoundly so. We were called to a high rise apartment in Brooklyn.  There, we met with a mother of a 47 year old gentleman who has been severely disabled since nine years old and is wheelchair bound.  He no longer has the use of his

legs and his left hand. Despite his physical limitations, he works as a lawyer in Manhattan.  He lives on the fourth floor, and when the storm hit he was unable to leave his bed due to the loss of electricity.  He was eventually hospitalized five days later due to hypothermia.  He has returned home, but cannot function due to the loss of his van, which was lost to salt water erosion.

November 26

Today’s challenge was thirty senior citizens who lived on Coney Island.  We evacuated them to a shelter in Brooklyn miles away

from their small neighborhood.  They are seniors who are living independently with staff who assist them to remain independent.  They are now living in a shelter in another building.  They have no hot meals since they normally cook for themselves. While they are being assisted by personnel they know, they are crowded together in a strange part of New York where they know no one.  We will be returning to assist them with the ongoing stress associated with the loss of their privacy and their community on Coney Island.

Stoppel with Lauren Watson and Noel Green

Stoppel with Lauren Watson and Noel Green

November 27

Hey, look who I ran into at 7:30…SEPA is in the house.

November 28

Noel and his team. Two days on this disaster response and Noel has again become the GO TO MAN.  Philly is making a difference…..lending our best to Manhattan.

Noel and his Team

Noel and his Team

Danelle and her team out to dinner

Danelle and her team out to dinner

November 29

Finally we are together to share a meal…

November 30

Bryan showed up at our outreach in site in Broad Channel.  Great seeing Bryan!

Bryan showed up at our outreach in site in Broad Channel. Great seeing Bryan!

For the past several days, I have been on an outreach team.  We are returning to places we know very well. This time we are armed with supplies, water, food, clothing, batteries, cleaning kits and winter coats.  Disaster victims needs are endless and after one month, they are tired, cold,frustrated and desperate. People living on the outer islands are now experiencing very cold weather. This team concept is an effort to find people whose needs have notbeen met.  Often, these people have lost everything.  Housing shortage appears to be the greatest need.  People from Coney Island are now living in hotels in Manhattan.  
Parents are driving their children back to Coney Island,  Rockaway and Far Rockaway daily to attend their neighborhood school, which is open.  Hotels cannot handle all of these people since the holiday season is coming.  

Danelle with client

Danelle with client

December 4
Today is the last day I will be on a team visiting families who lost a loved one in Hurricane Sandy. I have had a great deal of experience in the last year on these teams. I am always humbled to meet families and hear their stories. It requires one to hold back on emotions in order to get the job done.
When we give the family the donation from the Red Cross we say, “This is from the American people.” This is why I volunteer for the American Red Cross.
I will be back in Philly tomorrow and my Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross family will surround me and I will be grateful that I represented them here in New York.

More team members from Kansas, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia

Love and Peace to All
— Danelle Stoppel