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By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross Volunteer and Villanova student

As a senior in college, I have come to think of this time in my life as a stepping-stone between childhood and adulthood. You are given freedom, but are not yet required to be completely independent. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our universities to provide us with essentials. Personally, I did not realize how much I relied on my school until Superstorm Sandy hit.

Until Sandy, I had never thought about what I would do in the face of a disaster at college. I have distinct memories of my 19-year-old self, perched atop my bunk bed, listening to rain pound the window. The lights flickered frequently, threatening to die; all I had to eat was a bag of tortilla chips. I was completely unprepared. The school lost power, the dining hall could not be kept open, and my friends and I found ourselves confined to our dorm rooms while the storm raged around us. After talking to my friends who attend other universities, I realized this was not an uncommon experience.

While universities are equipped to deal with disasters, it is equally as important for students to prepare. During my junior year, a major snowstorm hit, leaving me (I was now living in an on-campus apartment) without power. Being without light meant there was a mad rush to purchase battery-powered lamps, leaving many students without alternative options to light their apartments. I lost most of my refrigerated food. The school urged everyone to go home, but since I did not live a convenient distance, that was not an option. A few of my friends considered going to a nearby hotel for the night.

rco_blog_img_CollegePrepAs a freshman, I laughed at my parents when they insisted I keep things like a flashlight in my dorm room. Now I realize how truly important those things are. Keeping items like a flashlight, extra batteries and a small portable lamp in your dorm are essential when it comes to emergency preparedness. Even food is important to keep in your room, just in case the dining halls are unable to serve you. My experience has definitely taught me that as we go about our busy college lives it’s important to stop for a second and think about if we are truly prepared.

— Cross-posted from the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Blog

 

 

 

On October 29, 2013, I had the pleasure of participating in yet another amazing American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania event! Volunteers and staff came to CBS 3 studios to participate in a Thank-A-Thon phone bank. This event was held on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, with the purpose of showing appreciation to those who donated to Sandy relief efforts.

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I arrived at CBS 3 a little before 12:00p.m., and was able to start making phone calls after a little training and some practice. Many of the calls I made in the beginning of the Thank-A-Thon were voice messages, as many people were at work. Towards the end of the afternoon and into the evening, more people were beginning to answer. The people I was able to reach were happy to hear from the American Red Cross.  Donors were appreciative of the call and glad to be recognized for their generosity.  By the end of the evening, over 3,500 people were called and thanked for their donations and support! It was a lot of hard work and took many volunteers, but was worth it to be able to thank so many generous supporters. Please check out the Red Cross One Year Sandy Report, where you can see how the donations have been spent as well as the amazing response and recovery efforts made by the Red Cross.

You can also check out this video of us at work (You may see me in the background).

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.

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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

Each year, the public affairs department of the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) makes a list of our “Top 20 Accomplishments” in order to take stock of our activities in the prior year and to let our friends know we have fulfilled our mission to the best of our ability. Funny thing about this list – it rarely appears in early January when one might expect to see it. Why? Because we’re often a little busy.

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Our most important work, helping those who face disasters, always comes first. The #1 accomplishment on the list mentions Superstorm Sandy, the enormous hurricane that hit the East Coast in early November.  During and in the wake of such a serious event, our small public affairs department went into overdrive to share important information with the public about preparedness, explain what SEPA is doing to support our community’s response to the storm and jumpstart our fundraising efforts.  Just when we’d got a handle on all that, it was the depth of winter, a time when the Philadelphia region is plagued by fire disasters that keep us on our toes.

So here we are, on February 21, 2013, ready to share and celebrate our 2012 accomplishments with a marvelous multi-media presentation!  As we do every year, we printed a booklet with photographs and in-depth explanations of our activities throughout the year. (here’s the Top20_2012_FinalIn addition, as part of our digital and social media efforts, we will devote a part of our website to displaying a digital version of our booklet  and, for the first time ever, a video display of the many ways we achieved the goals of our mission. Dear Reader, please click on this link to experience our moment of reflection in a wholly new and exciting way. I watched it this morning and I was amazed, captivated and utterly floored by its power to convey our message.

Like our mission itself, the video is a testimony to working together to achieve a goal. The SEPA public affairs team consists of our fearless leader, Dave Schrader and his tireless communications specialist, Sara Smith. The rest of us are volunteers who wander in and out throughout each week, contributing as best we can. I think all viewers will agree that our intrepid video interns, Michelle Davies and Kareem Bazali, did a fantastic job of putting the video together. The fades to black and white were Sara’s brainchild, informed by her background in TV, and she curated the beautiful photos. I did some shaping of the language in both the booklet and the video. Dave was the mastermind behind the list itself and a wise producer and director of all our efforts.

We are extremely pleased with our final Top 20 compilation and gratified by our role in sharing the SEPA story with donors, volunteers and friends.  But we are proudest of the work itself — SEPA’s ongoing efforts to alleviate suffering and create a more humane, caring and just world.

–          Submitted by Sarah Peterson, public affairs volunteer