Wednesday, December 29, 2010

We love you guys.

The night after the Blizzard of 2010, Frank Favilla and his wife Aabye-Gayle heard a commotion outside their apartment and realized their building on Judge Street in Queens was on fire. They fled, wearing just sneakers, pajamas and overcoats, then watched for almost an hour in the frigid cold as a 5-alarm blaze ripped through the building. Although their unit was not burnt, it suffered enormous damage as firefighters broke windows and walls in order to reach the burning apartment above them.

The next day, the couple, who had spent the night at the home of a family member, followed the advice of an uncle of Frank’s who has worked for the Red Crossthey returned to their apartment and registered with the organization. “My uncle said we could get our immediate needs for food, clothing and possibly shelter met,” said Frank. “And that if we had any questions, we could ask the Red Cross.”

In fact, Frank and Aabye-Gayle had many questions, among them, “What help is available?” “Whom should we call?” “Where should we go?” and “What documentation must we bring with us?”

“Our caseworker told us what next steps to take and who to speak to,” said Aabye-Gayle. “And that anyone who had questions should call her and she would speak on our behalf.” The couple, who received emergency funds for food, said they were very pleased with the Red Cross.

“We love you guys,” said Aabye-Gayle, who trained at the Red Cross in CPR and AED this past summer. “I didn’t know what specific crises you guys addressed, but that you help when people are displaced.” Frank added, “It’s comforting to know that there’s not a question we can’t ask when we need help.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Red Cross is the best there is in New York.

L to R: Ana Arrendel, Rances Gantier and Carmen Morales
The moment Carmen Morales smelled smoke the afternoon of December 21, she and her 18-year-old son José raced out of their ninth floor Bronx apartment. But because the smoke was billowing through their stairwell, firefighters met them a few floors below and sent the pair back to their apartment, to wait, very scared, for half an hour, until the firefighters returned to lead them outside.

When they emerged from the building, “The Red Cross was right there,” said Carmen. “They put us into a warm bus and gave us something to eat and drink, then took us to a community center.” At the center, Carmen and Jose were provided with more hot food and beverages, as well as emotional support and emergency housing at a local hotel.

Ana Arrendel, another Grand Concourse tenant, was at her job as a hairdresser, right across the street from the building, when she was alerted to the fire. Distraught, she immediately called her son Rances, who was teaching a class of pre-K students at a nearby school. Rances came home as soon as he could. He and his mother were also taken by bus to the community center, where they too, received emergency Red Cross assistance.

The two mothers and sons, who had not known each other before the fire, met at Chapter headquarters in Manhattan the next day, where Red Cross client caseworkers provided them with further services, along with referrals to other agencies that could help meet their longer-term needs.

“The Red Cross is the best there is in New York,” said Ana.“They gave me hospitality I wasn’t expecting.” When things get back to normal, she said, she plans to take up a collection for the Red Cross so that the organization can help others who find themselves in the same situation. Carmen added, “I’m very thankful to the Red Cross.”

Ana Arrendel, Rances Gantier and Carmen Morales, Bronx, NY

Monday, December 20, 2010

You help families to stay together.

L to R: Paula McCullough, granddaughter Lauren, and daughter Contina
Paula McCullough never imagined that she would need the services of the Red Cross, until she and her family—three daughters and five grandchildren—found themselves outside their Staten Island apartment at 4:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, watching their building burn. Their third floor apartment was deemed uninhabitable due to the damage caused by the fire, which started on their terrace, possibly from an electrical short. That’s when the Greater NY Red Cross stepped in to help.

“It never dawned on us that we would need the Red Cross until the FDNY told us that they had called them,” Paula said. Since they were unable to grab necessities from their apartment in time, the Red Cross provided the McCullough family with emergency food and clothing assistance at the scene of the fire.

“The Red Cross took the burden off of our shoulders,” said Paula. She added that when Red Cross relief workers said they would provide the family with housing assistance, she realized the McCulloughs would have to move and start over. Paula said she was grateful that the entire family was able to remain together in Red Cross arranged housing. “When I get back on my feet,” she said, “I am going to donate because I know that you help families to stay together.”

Paula McCullough, Staten Island

Monday, December 13, 2010

We are so happy to help children who have lost their homes…

Jackie Cruz and some of her students from PS1. (Photo: John Cruz)
As his children outgrew their books, John Cruz, Greater NY Red Cross Senior Supervisor, Response, realized that other children might greatly benefit from them—kids he saw each day at the Chapter’s Client Services Department who had lost everything in a home fire. So John donated those books to the Chapter. Soon, he noticed that children who visited Client Services with their parents were taking the books home. “I thought that was wonderful,” he said. “Of course, that meant that more books were needed.”

John’s wife Jackie, an art teacher at Brooklyn’s P.S. 1 the Bergen School, came to the rescue. Jackie had wanted to involve her students in a project that would help other children; a book drive to benefit the Greater NY Red Cross seemed perfect. Jackie’s students collected more than 200 new and gently used children’s books—so many that John drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle to P.S. 1 to haul the books back to the Chapter.

Red Cross overnight disaster responders then added to the collection, and Greater NY AmeriCorps volunteers put together bookcases. By October, The Cruz Library, with more than 300 books for children ages three years to teens, officially opened in Chapter’s Client Services area.

Children affected by disasters, primarily home fires, who accompany their parents to Chapter Headquarters to meet with client caseworkers, can now pick up a good book that will help to take their minds off of a difficult situation. They are encouraged to take home any book they wish.

“We are so happy to help children who have lost their homes to a fire or other disaster,” said John. “We hope they will take full advantage of this terrific new resource.”

John and Jackie Cruz, Brooklyn

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why I Run for the Red Cross

Photo by Syncere Zakee
Chris Busbee, unofficial coach of Team Red Cross, talks about his ING NYC Marathon experience this past November.

How many marathons have you participated in?
Thirty-seven; this was my 14th NYC Marathon.

Why do you run marathons?
Marathons are one of the few things that you get more out of it then you put in. They are the ultimate test of courage, character, dedication, perseverance, willpower. A marathon truly tells you “who you are.” My life has changed for the better because of the people that I’ve met by running for others and for charities. Running marathons makes you feel young. I’m running towards something and contributing to something at the same time.

Why run with Team Red Cross?
The Red Cross mission and brand is so unique. Red Cross is like a great work of art; we don’t notice it’s there are all the time, but we would notice if it were absent. What’s more, how can you not want to provide basic services to those who need it most? The organization’s mission represents a kindness and service to your fellow man that truly encapsulates the meaning in life. I’m proud to tell people to donate to the Red Cross.

What is your relationship with Patrick Durkin, a NY Red Cross Board member, and with Clay Sell, who came from Texas, as you did, to run in this race?
These are my friends who I am drawn to. I get so much out of my relationship with Durkin. We have a great bond. We met in Paris on a ridiculous biking tour of the Alps. I work with Clay and love challenging him, so I twisted his arm into coming to NYC and running this marathon with me.

Describe your experience crossing the finish line.
It was a weird mix of pleasure, joy and relief. I tell everyone that the last two miles of the marathon are the best two miles I run all year. It’s hard to sift through all of the pain and everything that’s going through your body, but it’s really joy and relief. It was emotional when I crossed with Shay Grinfield because it was his first marathon.

What was it like being a leader for Team Red Cross?
I felt like I was truly helping people by sharing my personal experience. I read this great quote that I’d like to share with you:

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle—when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."

I like this quote because it reminds me that it doesn’t matter if I’m in first place or in last place—all that matters is that I run. We’re running for the people of New York—the people whose lives have been altered because of a disaster. We run because when we do the American Red Cross is able to give them food and blankets, and provide a safe, temporary place for them to sleep free of charge. It’s not just the Red Cross’ one hundred year-old mission, it’s our team’s as well.

What advice do you have for first time marathon runners?
Running the NYC Marathon will change your life, and not in a small way. It’s impossible to describe what strengths and confidence you will get from successfully running this. It’s unfathomable for a first-time marathon runner to understand until they are in it. It’s a privilege to be surrounded by so many passionate people on that starting line—to know that there is more to life than the normal routine.

Chris Busbee, Boerne, Texas

Monday, December 6, 2010

“I never expected so much help in so little time.”

Walter and Diane Gomez and daughter Laura
As they were preparing for bed one Sunday night, Walter Gomez and his wife Diana smelled something burning. Ducking onto the balcony of their second floor Queens apartment, Walter was chilled to see smoke pouring from the apartment above. He quickly called 911, and told Diana to grab their daughter Laura and get out of the apartment. As his family raced downstairs to safety, Walter raced upstairs to the top floor apartment, which was enveloped in thick smoke. There he was met by another neighbor carrying a fire extinguisher who began to try to damp down the flames. (The people who lived in the fire apartment had already fled the building.)

Soon, Walter and his neighbor heard sirens and knew that firefighters would arrive shortly. Before they ran outside, they made one final check to make sure everyone had made it out of the building okay. Walter, a veteran of the first Gulf War who works in Operations at JPMorgan Chase, credits his attempts to save the third floor apartment to his U.S. Army service. “Instead of running out, we did what came naturally to us,” he said of himself and his neighbor, whom he called “a very proactive individual.”

Once the fire was extinguished, Red Cross responders at the scene started the Gomez family back on the road to recovery. “They went into the building with us and assessed the damage,” said Walter. “They explained what services they offered and provided us with food and financial assistance on the spot.”

At New York Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan a few days later, Walter and his family received further emergency services, including referrals to other agencies and arrangements for counseling. “You know that the Red Cross is there,” he said, “but you don’t know how much of a difference they make until you really need them. I’m surprised and overwhelmed. I never expected so much help in so little time.”

Walter, Diane and Laura Gomez, Glendale, NY

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"The Red Cross is literally a lifesaving organization."

On Thanksgiving Day, Deborah Stevens of Manhattan was visiting her older daughter in Ohio. She had come down with an upper respiratory infection and was asleep when she heard phones begin to ring. Her younger daughter, who was also out of town, in Atlanta, and her neighbors in Manhattan were calling to tell her that her apartment was on fire. “My apartment?” she said to her friends. “But nobody’s there!”

Sadly, Deborah’s apartment, where she had lived since 1982, did indeed suffer what the Fire Department told her was probably an electrical fire, and the damage was too extensive for Deborah to return home. Her neighbors, who had gone up to her apartment to make sure she was alright, saw the contact card left by the NY Red Cross and gave her the number to call.

The next week, as soon as Deborah returned to New York, she met with a client caseworker. “What I appreciated most,” said Deborah, who is staying with her sister-in-law, “was the way my caseworker made me feel—safe, and a little bit more relaxed. The uncertainty and nervousness I felt was alleviated.” The NY Red Cross also provided Deborah with a stipend for food, a MetroCard, and information about other agencies that could help her with housing and other services.

“The Red Cross is literally a lifesaving organization,” said Deborah. “It collects all these broken lives and it gives back a sense of confidence, security, hope and normalcy. It’s wonderful to know that everything is going to be all right."

Deborah Stevens, Manhattan