Friday, November 9, 2012

Stories from the field

Since Hurricane Sandy first hit the east coast nearly two weeks ago, we have been using this blog to keep you updated with our official press releases. Those are fine sources of information on what the Red Cross is doing to help those affected, but they really don't tell the personal side of how a disaster of this magnitude affects the residents and the volunteers who deploy to help. So today, I want to share just a couple of stories from some of the 34 folks from the Western New York region who have traveled to assist in the relief efforts so far. This first story comes from Bill Tucker, the Executive Director of the SWNY Chapter, who deployed shortly after the storm:
Volunteers at Red Cross shelter at St. Joe's on Long Island

After six days as a mass care shelter associate (Kitchen supervisor) at the Deer Park shelter on Long Island I moved with our clients and staff to a brand new shelter at St. Joseph College in Patchogue, about 20-ish miles further east on Long Island.  It was a chaotic move, as most are; we had to be out of the Middle School we were in because school was starting the next day, but the new shelter wasn’t up and running yet.  We had school buses transport the clients about 5:00pm, and we managed to get the rest of the staff and most of our remaining supplies to the new shelter in jam-packed rental cars.  We walked into a big gym full of people (no cots!), where we joined staff and clients from other shelters who were consolidating there with us as well.  At 10:30 pm (on election night) our truckload of cots arrived; what a flurry of activity!  Everyone jumped in to tear open boxes and set up cots; within 15 minutes (literally) there were over 100 cots set up and families were settling in for the night.

The most amazing thing about this was that despite a certain level of uncertainty and the initial scarcity of resources, everyone – clients included – worked with phenomenally positive attitudes to make it all come together.  The picture that sticks in my mind is the gentleman in the wheel chair, with only partial use of his hands, struggling to push a boxed cot to the area he wanted to sleep in; our staff saw this and immediately came to his aid, setting up his cot and getting him comfortably situated for the night.  Similar scenes happened over and over, all across the gym floor.  By about 11:30 the lights were dimmed, the noise settled down, and everyone (except the exhausted night shift) fell into a deep sleep.  The next morning our shelter management finalized the set up and quickly had a “by-the-book” shelter in place; head counts were confirmed, signage increased, shift assignments adjusted, and routines established.  We are now running smoothly and working through the challenges that are inherent in mass care sheltering; feeding without a kitchen, showering without hot water, and (for the night shift) sleeping in the midst of much commotion with ear plugs in and eyes covered.  Through it all the mutual support has been there, with everyone displaying a positive, productive attitude and a sincere desire to help.

Client at Red Cross shelter at St. Joe's on Long Island
The stories of our clients are heart-breaking, and almost too difficult to write about.  I have spoken to so many, most in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, who have nothing left and don’t know where to turn.  There are the families with young children also, trying to get the kids to and from school while living at a shelter miles distant from their homes (I am hearing that the school district is to start bus service for the children soon).  I am so thankful that the 31 volunteers from WNY (33?  34? I’m losing count) are here on the coast and doing all they can to help people in need.  Thank you!

Take care, and be safe!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Red Cross Continues Massive Relief Response to Sandy

Western New York Companies, volunteers assist in efforts

BUFFALO, NY, November 5, 2012 – The American Red Cross is continuing a massive relief response following Superstorm Sandy, providing food, shelter, relief supplies and comfort to people affected by the storm. More than 5,300 trained Red Cross disaster workers from all over the country are supporting shelters, providing food and water at fixed sites and driving through affected neighborhoods to distribute meals and supplies. The entire Red Cross fleet of Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs), more than 320 in total, has been activated to distribute meals, water, snacks and relief supplies.

Volunteer Pete Swales of Springville (Center) with other
members of the Disaster Assessment team in Queens, NY
To date, the Red Cross has helped families and individuals in ten states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico affected by Sandy. The Red Cross served more than one million meals and snacks, provided more than 54,000 overnight stays, made more than 17,000 health services and emotional support contacts and handed out more than 60,000 relief items.

The response to Sandy is likely to be the biggest Red Cross response in the United States in the past five years. Western New York corporations and individuals have stepped up to support these efforts, especially those companies with employees and customers in affected areas:
  •        M&T Bank is donating $250,000 to assist those affected by Sandy, will match all contributions made M&T employees, directors, and retirees and collect contributions from the public at any of its branches;
  •          The First Niagara Bank Foundation made a $100,000 donation and established a bank-wide Red Cross donation account that customers can deposit money into;
  •          Praxair Foundation is making a $50,000 donation to support relief efforts in Connecticut where their headquarters are located and an additional $10,000 to support the American Red Cross in Buffalo;
  •          Wegmans Buffalo Division is making a $10,000 donation;
  •          Tops Markets have made a $5,000; DiMino’s Lewiston Tops Market is making an additional $5,000 donation. 

Dozens of other Western New York corporations have also made generous gifts to support the Red Cross relief to Sandy, and media outlets including WGRZ-TV, WKBW-TV, WBBZ-TV and Buffalo Rising have donated advertising space and/or live broadcast time to encourage donations. In addition, the Red Cross thanks individuals from across Western New York who have made gifts large and small to support the Red Cross efforts.

Two additional volunteers from the Western New York Region are leaving Tuesday to work in the Red Cross relief efforts. Lizbeth Booth from Grand Island and Sue Olexenko of Amherst will serve as Disaster Mental Health workers, providing emotional support to those dealing with the trauma caused by Sandy. Booth and Olexenko make a total of 31 staff and volunteers from the eight counties of the Western New York region that have been deployed as part of the Red Cross response to Sandy:

NAME, HOMETOWN                   FUNCTION                                                             
Anthony Addotta, West Seneca            Logistics
Phillip Baker, Jamestown                     Logistics
Lizbeth Booth, Grand Island                Disaster Mental Health
Carl Chamberlain, Lockport                 Disaster Mental Health
James Collingwood, Amherst               External Relations/Government Operations
Tom Daley, Tonawanda                       Mass Care/Sheltering
Janice Davis, Friendship                       Disaster Health Services
Martin Doster, Getzville                        Feeding/ERV
Marieanna Elliott, Hamburg                Disaster Mental Health
Marianne Evans, Ransomville             Mass Care/Sheltering
James France, Amherst                        Feeding/ERV
Allison Hall, Buffalo                              Disaster Mental Health
Michael Hoplight, Niagara Falls           Mass Care/Shelter Supervisor
Tara Hughes, Amherst                          Disaster Mental Health Chief
Norman Kehl, Strykersville                   Mass Care/Sheltering
Kevin Kelley, Medina                             Mass Care/Sheltering
Jose Latalladi, Buffalo                           Financial & Statistical Information
Rosalind Lind, Medina                           Mass Care/Sheltering
Margaret McGee-Smith, Kenmore       Disaster Mental Health
Hollyann Moffett, Dunkirk                    Mass Care/Sheltering
Diane Sargent, Lockport                        Disaster Assessment
Michael Schultz, Kenmore                     External Relations/Public Affairs
Beth Shook, Cuba                                   Staff Services
Katherine Story, West Seneca                Disaster Health Services
Peter Swales, Springville                         Disaster Assessment
Terry Sweet, P0rtageville                       Mass Care/Sheltering
William Tucker, Jamestown                  Mass Care/Sheltering
SWNY Volunteer, Bemus Point             Feeding/ERV
SWNY Volunteer, Bemus Point             Feeding/ERV
Noel Varela, Orchard Park                     Mass Care/Sheltering (Returned home)
Dawn Zaker, Niagara Falls                     Mass Care/Sheltering                 

HOW TO HELP The response to Sandy is likely to be the biggest Red Cross response in the U.S. in the past five years. Those who want to help can make a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. They can also use the “donate” feature on the free Red Cross Apps for mobile devices to support this relief response. Contributions may also be sent to local Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

GIVE BLOOD Hundreds of Red Cross blood drives have been cancelled due to the storm, representing a loss of thousands of blood and platelet products. The Red Cross is asking people who are eligible, especially in places not affected by the storm, to schedule a time to give blood in the days and weeks to come.

To schedule a donation time or get more information about giving blood, people can visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). To give blood, someone must be at least 17 years of age, meet weight and height requirements and be in general good health. Donors should bring their Red Cross blood donor card or other form of positive ID with them. Some states allow 16-year-olds to give with parental consent.