Friday, January 10, 2014

The Story Behind the Video

“I don’t know where we would be without the Red Cross stepping in to help.”

Jessi Evans, her four children and their father Cliff have been living in a hotel provided by Red Cross volunteers and supporters since their Middleport, NY apartment building was destroyed by fire two days ago. The story of how Evans and the children survived is getting a lot of attention, largely thanks to a video shot by one of the many people who came together to rescue them.

“Cliff and I watched the video last night, it took us two tries to get through it,” Evans said. “We saw how everyone came together to help.”

Evans and the children, all under the age of seven, were in a bedroom when Jessi’s sister noticed smoke. They called 911, grabbed the kids and went to a window. “
My sister kicked out the window and we started screaming for help,” Evans said. Middleport police and fire officials rushed to the back of the home, where Evans and her sister started passing children to them through the window. Evans actually went back into the home to try to rescue her pets before being forced onto a rooftop.

Jessi Evans, her children Hayden, Bryson, Connor and
Taylor with their father Cliff
“I had to think that if I went back to get the animals, my kids might not have their mother,” Evans said. A volunteer firefighter from a nearby district, who shot the video, happened on the scene, grabbed a ladder from a neighboring apartment building and helped Middleport officials safely get Evans and her sister down before the building was destroyed. Evans, her sister and the kids were taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation, but would be okay.

“I started screaming for my family,” said Cliff, who was at work when the fire started. “My family is my life, the reason I get up and go to work every day. Thank you for helping them.”

“I was informed at the hospital that the Red Cross could help, and that’s where I met with Mike,” Evans said of Disaster Action Team volunteer Mike Hoplight. “The extended stay at the hotel has helped a lot. Otherwise we might have stayed with family, but probably would’ve been separated because of space.” The Red Cross has also provided the family with vouchers for food, clothing and baby supplies such as diapers, and Hoplight and other caseworkers continue to meet with the family to help them get back on their feet.

“The support from the community has been tremendous,” Evans said. “I wish I could thank everyone individually.”

Evans, Cliff and the children are just six of the over 50 Erie and Niagara County residents receiving Red Cross assistance after nine separate fires over the past four days. We can only help these neighbors in need thanks to your support. Please consider making a donation to the Disaster Relief Fund by calling 1-800-REDCROSS, visiting, or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to charge a $10 donation to your phone bill. And we’d love to have you as a volunteer as well.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sorry, Jimmy Griffin!

Volunteers Pete Peterson and Mary Walker at a shelter
in Southwestern New York
During the Blizzard of 1985, former Buffalo Mayor Jimmy Griffin said, "Stay inside, grab a six-pack and watch a good football game." Unfortunately, during the "Polar Vortex" of 2014, our staff and volunteers from across the Western New York and Finger Lakes Regions haven't exactly had time to do that.

In Rochester, we opened nine shelters as part of the City's "Heat Sweep" program. Working in the 50 Prince Street office, it was amazing to see how quickly the volunteers came together to honor this request from City Hall to help our neighbors in need. On the western end of our region, staff and volunteers opened shelters in Ripley and Irving to help travelers stranded by Thruway and other road closures come in out of the cold. Over 70 people spend Monday night at Red Cross shelters, and warming stations were also opened in Wellsville and Cuba.

Of course, our response to this winter weather didn't end with sheltering. In Rochester, a reporter called me about an international family stranded at the airport by flight diversions and cancellations until Friday. Our emergency services team worked with the airline to ensure this story had a happy ending.

Coffee and water ready for residents at Gantt Center shelter
in Rochester (courtesy of Wegmans)
And much like the post office, neither snow nor bitter cold can stop our volunteers from helping those in need after a fire. We provided assistance including Disaster Mental Health services to three survivors of a fire in Niagara Falls, helped 11 people after an Orchard Park apartment fire, and 11 people--including some who were apparently part of a heroic rescue effort by first responders--in Middleport. Whether or not our bitter cold weather was a factor in these incidents, the Western New York and Finger Lakes Regions have responded to 10 fires since Monday, helping over 50 people who lost everything in the blink of an eye.

We are only able to provide this vital service to the community because of your support, so THANK YOU to all or our supporters, and of course the volunteers who braved the elements to help our neighbors in need this week. And don't worry, we're still ready to respond if necessary after the upcoming flood watch as well!