Thursday, May 14, 2015

What a difference a year makes!

When the phone rings at 2am, it's usually not a good sign. That's how May 14, 2014 started for me, being awakened by a phone call that we were opening a shelter in Penn Yan in response to flooding there and in Yates County.

Of course, the Red Cross volunteers were already in action. While most normal human beings were sound asleep, before 5am they had a shelter at the Penn Yan Academy for those forced from their homes, a shelter that would remain open for six days, providing 34 overnight shelter stays.

Having been with the Red Cross for a few years, I had an idea of what was happening. But when I arrived in Penn Yan that afternoon, I was stunned by the amount of devastation in the downtown area. Streets had literally been washed away.

Driving through surrounding areas of Yates County with volunteers over the next several days, delivering water and clean up kits, it quickly became apparent that more than just downtown Penn Yan had been affected by this disaster. 

Looking back one year later, two things really stick out in my mind. I grew up close enough to Penn Yan that I spent nights at my parent's house during our response. It surprised me how much harder it was to deal with a disaster that hit so close to home. 

What didn't surprise me, however, was the work of our volunteers. As my colleague Veronica said at the time of her first disaster response, "The American Red Cross was EVERYWHERE. Volunteers from Niagara Falls to Rochester to Schuyler County to Elmira and everywhere in between mobilized in Penn Yan. They volunteered for 12 hour to sometimes 24 hour shifts at the shelter at Penn Yan Academy. Still others volunteered in the Penn Yan and surrounding communities delivering clean up kits and offering advice on what was next for those who suffered losses in the flood."

Those immediate emergency response efforts continued for three weeks, with volunteers serving over 600 meals and snacks, distributing 38 clean-kits, providing emotional support to countless people devastated by the storm and provided dozens of referrals to help the community get back their feet. 

It may be hard to believe looking at today's bright blue skies, but one year later, the people of Penn Yan and Yates County are still recovering from last spring's floods. And the Red Cross is still there, supporting the community each and every day. None of this would be possible with the incredible work of our volunteers and your generous support 365 days a year. I'm proud to be a part of this great organization, but I'm especially proud to have been there with our amazing volunteers one year ago. 

Today and always, we're #PYStrong.