Friday, November 30, 2012

Red Cross Responds to Everyday Disasters while Sandy Relief Continues

By Julie Krizen

Although the American Red Cross is in the midst of its Superstorm Sandy response, the largest U.S. disaster response in five years, “routine” disasters continue to occur within the Greater New York Red Cross region.

“While phones are still ringing for Hurricane Sandy, we’re also handling our usual seven to eight disasters a day across New York City, Long Island, the Lower Hudson Valley, Westchester County and Greenwich, Conn,” said Takia Chandler, Greater New York Red Cross emergency communications dispatcher. “We’re multi-tasking. Our emergency communications center runs 365 days, 24 hours a day. As dispatchers we take the information and send out a response unit.”

Red Cross volunteer Jerry Rothstein is one of those responders always ready to answer the call for help, providing assistance for house and apartment fires, building collapses and more.

“Some apartment fires involve large numbers of families,” said Rothstein, “and generally speaking, people have no idea what services the Red Cross provides.”

Rothstein said that when families learn that the Red Cross will give them temporary housing and emergency funds for lost food and clothing, they’re usually surprised and happy.

“Most are just delighted that someone has come out to help them.”

Since Sandy made landfall, the Greater New York Red Cross has assisted more than 500 households affected by everyday disasters like home fires, providing hope, comfort, and support to those affected. Volunteers and donations make this possible. To get help or to help, call 1-877-REDCROSS or go to

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You Guys Make Me So Happy

Most days Inwood Community Center is a place where seniors come to mingle and children come to play. On Oct. 29 it quickly morphed into a much-needed place of refuge. Nine people in total were able to find sanctuary and comfort in the Red Cross supported shelter. One woman, 83-year-old Marguerte Hill, was there for three days due to a power outage.

Mrs. Hill, known to the community as “Mother Hill,” was there supporting her friends as they gathered clothing from the center. A fixture in the neighborhood, Mother Hill said the church that her late husband established 69 years ago had lost power and was forced to cancel most of its anniversary plans scheduled for this week.

Despite her troubles, Mother Hill stayed positive, saying the kosher food delivered by the Red Cross to the Community Center was wonderful and greatly appreciated by the neighborhood it was then delivered to, and that the Red Cross cots and blankets made her stay there comfortable.

Mrs. Hill’s infectious laughter and amazing attitude lit up everyone around her. Upon exiting with cane in hand Mother Hill exclaimed, “You guys make me so happy I could just run!”

In the midst of one of the biggest operations the American Red Cross has ever put on, to hear just one voice stand up and say we made a difference makes the days without sleep and time away from loved ones worth it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ohio Town Youngsters Make Beautiful Music in Manhattan for the Red Cross

After severe thunderstorms and tornadoes devastated Columbus Grove, a town of 2,500 in central Ohio, earlier this year, residents who had received help from around the country—by way of the American Red Cross—wanted to “pass it forward” to those impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

The town’s musical ambassadors delivered that generosity. Before performing a concert in The Atrium at 590 Madison Ave. in New York City, the school’s music department presented a check for $4,250 to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund.

Every other year, the Columbus Grove band and choir, with a total of about 140 teenagers, travels out of state to perform. This year’s field trip to New York City was planned long before Sandy struck.

After seeing the destruction caused by Sandy in this area, the band’s booster club decided to dedicate any extra dollars to the Red Cross. The fundraising then became community-wide, with churches taking special donations and service clubs chipping in. In the end, the donation totaled almost $2 for every adult and child in Columbus Grove.

Chaperone Theresa Murray, whose daughter plays flute and piccolo in the band, has been involved with the fundraising for these trips before. She’s helped with sub sandwich sales, a home-and-garden event and a rock-a-thon when her older children were in the band.

This time, she said, “The response was more than we expected.”

“We hope this is good learning experience for the kids,” added Choir Director Carla Wynak, “that they’ll understand what it means to help others in need.”

After receiving an ovation from Red Crossers for their generosity, the kids turned the tables and applauded the Red Cross.

I spent my birthday in New York

Michael Clark spent his 22nd birthday giving rather than receiving.

An American Red Cross volunteer from Eureka, Calif., Clark came all the way across the country to help deliver meals to people impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

Every day—including his birthday, Nov. 11—he would show up first thing in the morning at a field kitchen in Deer Park, N.Y., to load the insulated containers that hold hot food prepared by members of the Southern Baptist Convention.

With directions from his Red Cross dispatcher, he and his crew would head for a stricken Long Island neighborhood, where the familiar red and white truck would deliver food and hope to those trying to put their lives back together.

Back home, Clark works for a Walmart store. When he learned that the Red Cross needed feeding truck drivers, he approached his store manager, who “made it happen” to let Clark go to New York to help others.

Clark prides himself in delivering not only meals, but a laugh to residents in need and co-workers alike.

New York Volunteer Passionate About Helping People

“If you try it just one day, you’d understand.”

That’s how 28-year-old Zullyvette Feliciano describes volunteering with the American Red Cross.

“Most of my friends don’t volunteer at all and they don’t understand,” she said. “But when you see the appreciation in someone’s face that you’ve helped, it’s out of this world.”

Feliciano, who works full time at a New York hospital, has been a volunteer with the Greater New York Red Cross region for more than two years. Her dedication to public service has even driven her to use her own vacation time to help out in times of disaster.

“I went to Catholic school growing up and always had volunteer projects, so it’s always been a part of me,” Feliciano said. “If you have the ability to help, you should.”

As a volunteer with the Greater New York emergency response team, Feliciano helps people affected by everyday disasters like house fires, providing them with food, clothing, lodging, emotional support and other assistance as needed.

“Everyone is always so warm and grateful for what we do,” she said.

When Superstorm Sandy made landfall, Feliciano navigated her way from her home in the Bronx to regional headquarters in Manhattan to help any way she could. Her dedication prompted her to spend the night on a cot in an empty office cubicle on the building’s fourth floor, along with dozens of other Red Cross volunteers. She awoke the next day to continue volunteering.

As part of a Red Cross team, Feliciano began conducting damage assessments in some of the hardest-hit areas. She also drove a mobile feeding truck through the streets of the Rockaways, distributing food to those who had lost their homes.
“Everyone was so happy to see us,” she said.

Feliciano even pitched in and answered phone calls in the emergency communications center at Greater New York headquarters in the weeks following Sandy. At the time, the center was receiving thousands of calls each day.

Feliciano earned her master’s degree in environmental and occupational health sciences in 2009. Today, she is back at her full-time job, but her passion for helping brings her back to the Red Cross almost every Saturday, where she continues to assist those impacted by everyday disasters like house fires.

“I get way more back than what I give,” Feliciano said.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Volunteer Profile: Mike Hoplight

By Robert W. Wallace

Mike Hoplight is a super volunteer for the American Red Cross. So far this year he has been deployed for duty away from his Sanborn, New York, home for a total of 159 days. Currently, he is the Site Manager for the large distribution center on Long Island that provides bulk supplies for persons affected by Hurricane Sandy. He has been in charge of this site for the past 29 days, having arrived well in advance of the storm to receive and be ready to supply needed items for the storm victims.

“I’ve been deploying all my life for various operations, and I’ll be here until this operation is done,” said Hoplight, “but I would like to get home to be with my wife and daughters for Christmas.”

Hoplight is retired from the United States Army and volunteers extensively for the Red Cross: He serves as the Sheltering Lead for the state of New York and also does a great deal of volunteering for Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces. Just prior to deploying in support of Hurricane Sandy, Hoplight was in Afghanistan working for the Red Cross.

His current mission involves running the bulk distribution site and coordinating community organizations involved in the recovery effort, such as churches, food pantries, community centers, and in one case, even a home for orphan children. Approximately 100 volunteers are involved in the operation, mostly Red Cross workers, but also other volunteers, including members of the Teamsters Union.

The communities served by the distribution site include, Bay Shore, Lindenhurst, Mastic Beach, Babylon and West Islip New York. Bulk items provided include clean-up kits, bleach, sponges, masks, trash bags, baby food and formula, diapers, wipes, and paper towels.

CERTain Partners

Among a sea of red-clothed volunteers handing out comfort and clean-up kits on Thanksgiving Day in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, one man stood out. In his bright green vest, Devin Cohen, chief of the local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), spent the holiday helping with the Red Cross relief effort, now in its fourth week.

Shortly after Sandy made landfall on Oct.29, Cohen managing a shelter for individuals with function and access needs. Almost three weeks later, he was still responding, this time in one of the hardest hit areas of Brooklyn, where scattered power outages still affect some brownstones, apartment buildings and local businesses.

“These days, it’s block to block,” Cohen said. “I was supposed to spend the day with my family, but we got an email asking us to send teams to help distribute food and supplies, so here I am.”

Since the response began weeks ago, the Red Cross—in partnership with several local and national organizations—has distributed almost four million relief items, including cold weather kits and clean-up supplies. In New York alone last weekend, the Red Cross handed out more than 1.4 million items to people in need.

In the days and weeks following major disasters, it’s not uncommon to see CERT teams working hand-in-hand with Red Cross volunteers. More than 1,100 communities across the United States have local CERT groups, which aim to harness the power of local citizens to support first responders during emergencies. Local CERT volunteers have been trained to help bolster communities’ safety, security and preparedness in the face of natural disasters, among other emergencies.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Andy Harris

Andy Harris is a cyclist, a world traveler, and one of the most dedicated workers at the Miller Field bulk distribution center. This Englishman with a cheery disposition has a fascinating story of how he established himself as an unforgettable Red Cross volunteer.

The 53-year-old backpacked, bicycled, and motor-biked across Europe and Asia, eventually making his way to Houston, Texas, via Mexico. From there he bicycled to North Carolina. After volunteering at a museum for a week, he caught a ride on a pickup truck to Pennsylvania before biking the rest of the way to New York.

Andy has dedicated his life to helping others whenever he can.

His philosophy is, “When you’re down and out, there’s nothing like giving back to make you feel better.”

So once aboard the Staten Island Ferry, he asked around about how to help in Sandy’s aftermath and was advised to join the American Red Cross. That’s just what Andy did, and he hasn’t looked back.

Andy not only volunteers at Miller Field, he sleeps in a tent there as well. He says he would hate to take up a bed that could be given to someone else. One bonus is that his commute is as short as it gets.

“I can just step out of my tent and go right to work!”

Andy’s supervisors say he is one of the hardest working volunteers at the site. Hopefully, this unforgettable volunteer, whose attitude inspires everyone around him, will be with the Red Cross for a long time to come.

Friday, November 23, 2012

High School Students Help People Affected by Superstorm Sandy

More than two dozen members of the Mamaroneck, N.Y., High School Red Cross Club stepped up to help people in their community affected by Superstorm Sandy.

“The club's efforts made a huge impact, and everyone involved has expressed great appreciation for our actions,” said Eli Russ, president of the M.H.S. Red Cross Club.

Superstorm Sandy also affected Red Cross Club members themselves. “Many of us were without electricity or other basic items for up to a week or longer.”

An emergency evacuation shelter was operated at the M.H.S. Post Road gym from the evening of Oct. 28 to the afternoon of Nov. 30 for residents who needed a safe and dry place to sleep and wait out the storm.

The shelter housed about 70 residents at its peak. A warming shelter was also set up on Nov. 2 and housed a handful of overnight residents.

“We proved to be an invaluable asset to our community's sheltering efforts,” said John Dyer, vice president of the M.H.S. Red Cross Club.

Club members assisted with setting up, operating and closing both shelters. They assembled and disassembled about 100 cots and transported dozens of boxes of supplies.

Club members helped registered shelter clients and served as translators for Spanish-speaking residents in addition to distributing meals, snacks, and water to shelter residents.

Photos of the Mamaroneck Red Cross Club in action at the shelters can be seen at

Volunteer Spotlight: John Saffa

“Volunteering for the Red Cross is just like a second love in my life,” said John Saffa.

The 73-year-old from the American Red Cross Cherokee Chapter in Alabama has been in the organization only a year, but Hurricane Sandy is his fifth national deployment.

Tuesday, Saffa was helping with bulk distribution on Staten Island, providing clean-up supplies and coolers packed with Thanksgiving treats to people without power.

“I like being out with the people,” Saffa said. “They come up and hug you and thank you for being here and missing Thanksgiving with your own family. I feel real honored to be here to do this.”

A friend who volunteered during 9/11 encouraged Saffa to join the Red Cross. When he finally did, Saffa quickly found his place. Between national deployments, he’s made time to complete 27 Red Cross classes.

“The way people in the Red Cross work together is great,” Saffa said. “Everyone I’ve been with on this deployment has been fabulous.”

One person whom Saffa served barely escaped the storm with his life. Fifteen feet of water entered his home and caused his car to flip over. When the water in the house reached the man’s neck, he finally swam out of the house, praying all the way.

“That’s why I give 120 percent,” said Saffa. “I’m out here to help people. The only thing we should be worrying about is the people we’re helping.”

Resting briefly after making his second run for the day, Saffa added, “I’m going to do this ‘til I can’t do it anymore.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tears and Smiles

by  Michele Maki

In a move that speaks of the generosity and kindness within the Manhattan business community, the American Red Cross received a gift of 28,000 jackets to warm the children affected by Superstorm Sandy.

“Our operation was shut down for an entire week.” Sam Haddad, CEO of Haddad Brands explained. “But, when we saw the Red Cross trucks arrive, we knew we had to help. “

Haddad’s generous donation was quickly put to use. Within hours, 400 Red Cross trucks were getting ready to distribute the jackets to children who would otherwise be suffering from the frigid temperatures.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to help our community, especially the children.” Haddad added.

Superstorm Sandy impacted everyone at the Haddad Brands office. Still, putting the needs of children first, was the primary concern for Mr. Haddad and his staff.

“We’re all in this together," he said. "We simply had to help.”

Sunday, Haddad’s gift of warmth reached those who needed it the most-the children of Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn, Coney Island. These children and their families have been without heat, electricity and fresh water since Sandy’s landfall nearly two weeks ago.

Squeals of laughter and giggles could be heard throughout the distribution area. Tears of gratitude from mothers, now relieved, knowing their children won’t be shivering from the frigid temperatures any longer were evident everywhere.

“Thank you, thank you.” one tearful mother wept. “God bless you, Red Cross.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Sandy Volunteer Shares His Experiences

Michael Spieth, who lives in Astoria, N.Y. and works as a project manager, became an American Red Cross spontaneous volunteer for Sandy and worked for 72 hours in a Red Cross shelter on Long Island. He wrote a description of his experience that he sent to friends. He gave us permission to share it here.

Hello friends,

Some of you know that I volunteered at a Red Cross shelter on Long Island as part of the disaster relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy. I'd like to share some of these experiences.

I'm very glad I did this. I'm back home after almost three days, having taken the Long Island Rail Road to the Jamaica station and the subway home from there.

You would hardly believe the pace of work at a Red Cross shelter. Every moment is taken up by thinking and acting on a never-ending list of items. I got to sleep three hours twice in that time. I could have gotten more, but one goes into a kind of adrenaline rush and mostly only sleeps when talked into it a few times.

I was made aware of the need for volunteers by a friend. I signed up on Tuesday, Oct. 30, and showed up for training on Wednesday morning ready and packed for three days, as the email had asked. That same afternoon, I was in a van with four others, being driven out to Long Island. I was assigned to a shelter located by Farmingdale, N.Y., in a high school. My first night there, it received 100 people from another shelter closer to the water, which had closed due to lack of electricity. That brought us to about 230 shelter residents total.

The Red Cross had prepositioned a storage container with supplies the Sunday before. The shelter staff took cots, blankets, and many other useful items from there. Parents and community residents also walked in with bags full of donations: clothes, diapers, soap, toiletries. We had boxes of toiletry kits prepared by a Girl Scout troop, and food was often donated from businesses nearby. I expected the shelter would have to close on Sunday to make room for school starting again Monday; they did not know where they'd be transferred to when I left. (Update: The shelter did not move that weekend; on a disaster relief effort, things change all the time.)

One senior lady was there because she needed electricity for her medical device (oxygen, in her case). I was glad to see that she was picked up before I left. There were about five babies and 25 children; the rest were adults. The children stayed with their parents in a separate school gymnasium next to another gymnasium housing adults only.

One of our goals was to create routines, so everyone had some structure to their time in the shelter. If they needed something and we had it, it was theirs.

Volunteers ran the entire site. Our managers were professionals with years of experience in emergency and disaster relief management, and the volunteers all did what they were best at.

While training at the Red Cross we were told two indispensable things: first, be flexible; and second, listen to clients; it helps them.

Listening does help. Many times a resident stopped me and told me their story. One could see their relief to share. I'll add another to this list: three—Let people be people. With so many quirky characters under one roof, the only thing one could do is just take them for who they were—people in need of help, who needed a place to sleep, food to eat, and a hot shower. Many of them had literally lost everything to the flooding. Others just couldn't stay at home because of a lack of electricity, and often because they were dependent on medical devices needing electricity, like oxygen machines.

No point in going into detail on some of the bad luck that these folks have had. Needless to say, if one has to go to a shelter, it's serious.

More volunteers from AmeriCorps, Stonybrook University, JetBlue and others arrived on Thursday and brought much needed help to the team.

A bus from the SPCA housing pets arrived Thursday and pet owners got to spend time with their animals. Ambulances and paramedics from Ohio and Alabama stayed at the school 24/7 to provide extra medical coverage, beside the on-site nurse, who was sent home and replaced after 48 hours of straight work. The school's custodians helped us 24 hours a day with facilities, and police officers were there to keep the peace.

The staff and shelter residents started working together very quickly to manage events like helping clean the cafeteria and the entrance areas. Residents also lent each other phone chargers, watched out for each other's children in the “family” gym.

One kid really stood out. He helped like a champion with anything he could. I’ll call him Brian. He celebrated his 16th birthday in that shelter. The school's custodians found out and got him a cake. Red Cross policy is to never abandon people, and the goal really is to get people connected to their relatives and friends, and to get back to their lives.

Ok, I'm exhausted and on my way to a full night's sleep, after a great, warm, homemade dinner. This was an amazing and moving experience, and I thanked the Red Cross for letting me help. Please consider making a small donation at

Hope you're all well, and thanks for listening.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Red Cross is Here for You

By Rebecca Nelson

On Veteran’s Day weekend, I had the opportunity to go out into the field alongside fellow Red Cross volunteers and employees to help people devastated by Superstorm Sandy. I was designated a “Site Leader” and assigned to the Rockaways, one of the deeply impacted neighborhoods in Queens. 

Even though I have received daily, comprehensive updates of Sandy’s impact, I was shocked at the magnitude of the storm’s power and the destruction left in its wake – hundred-foot oak trees ripped right from their roots, toppled over like chess pawns; homes and buildings reduced to piles of wood, brick and rubble; homes lucky to still be left standing are silent, dark, and overshadowed by a pile of debris at the curb.  

Upon closer inspection, I saw the debris is actually everything that family had owned, including furniture, clothing, and memories – all destroyed by flood and sewage water; and what is now a familiar but nonetheless troubling sight to all of us: the mile-long queue of people with red gas cans surrounded by police and fatigue-clad service members. 

With 40 dedicated Red Cross volunteers from all areas of the country, we canvassed the neighborhood to let the community know that our mobile feeding vehicles were nearby and stocked with hot food. We distributed thousands of comfort kits with blankets, flashlights and other necessary items.

Most people had been without power for over two weeks, with no light or heat as the days get shorter and the temperatures continue to drop. Most were caring for little kids or elderly parents and neighbors. They were out on a chilly afternoon to find donated blankets, diapers, bottled water—or at the very least, a place to charge their cell phones. 

I expected distress, despair and anger, and while some of these emotions were justifiably present, I was surprised by the amazing display of hope on people’s faces at just a glimpse of my Red Cross jacket. Handing over a Styrofoam tray of BBQ pulled pork with a smile, I was thanked, hugged and blessed. 

I do not have the ability to turn the power back on. What I could offer was a comforting hand on a shoulder and ear to listen to someone’s plight, a hot meal, and access to the resources people desperately needed.

After a heart-wrenching but fulfilling day I drove away from this changed community, taking in the haphazard way cars were parked on the meridian and on the side of the road. They were all abandoned, destroyed from sea water up to their sunroofs. As the twenty minute trip home stretched to almost two hours, we finally came upon the cause of the traffic—a large boat in the middle of Cross Bay Boulevard, left wherever the surge had tossed it. In front someone spray-painted a message on a large wooden plank: “Broad Channel – The Forgotten Town.” 

I know after hearing everyone’s stories that this is the way it feels. But to Broad Channel, the Rockaways, Staten Island, Long Beach, and all of the other towns and people whose lives have been forever changed by Sandy, you are not and have never been forgotten. 

The Red Cross has been here since the beginning. We are giving out hundreds of thousands of meals, clean-up and comfort items each day. And we will be here for as long as we are needed, powered by the spirit of kind volunteers who dedicate their time, and the amazing generosity of people and businesses who donate crucial funds to support our work.

I have never been more proud to be a part of something as I am of being a Red Crosser.  I feel deeply fortunate to work with generous and dedicated people and companies that have made incredible donations and sacrifices of time. 

It makes our work possible, and that work really does change lives. I want to extend a simple thank you to all the volunteers who have helped and are helping, and to everyone who has generously donated to the Red Cross. You are making a difference in thousands of lives.

Rebecca Nelson works in the development department of the Greater New York Red Cross region.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Losing the roof of his house to Hurricane Andrew motivated Roberto Baltodano to become a Red Cross volunteer

By Gemma Haywood

Miami Red Cross volunteer Roberto Baltodano’s first experience with the Red Cross was as a recipient of Red Cross aid during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. When Andrew hit South Florida, the roof of Baltodano’s South Dade house was destroyed.

With no work for two to three weeks due to a post-Andrew power outage, rather than sit at home doing nothing, Baltodano joined the Red Cross as a volunteer Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) driver.

“I remember an ERV coming to our neighborhood and feeding us the meals that we’re feeding today in New York,” he said. “So I’ve been on the other side of that window. I was a client.”

When Baltodano was laid off a year and a half ago after 25 years in the financial services sector, he decided to increase his involvement with the Red Cross and become a full-time volunteer in Miami, specializing in disaster mass care, or feeding.

When the East Coast went on alert for Hurricane Sandy, Baltodano was part of an advance team stationed around the NY region, ready to coordinate the deployment of Red Cross ERVs in the wake of Sandy.

After the storm, Red Cross vehicles were deployed to the New York region from across the US. Some of the first to arrive were from Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. As the full scale of the disaster became clear, the Red Cross’s full, nationwide contingent of 320 emergency vehicles were sent to the storm-hit region; 180 are now in operation in the New York area.

Baltodano’s first role in the relief effort was to coordinate sending six Red Cross vehicles, stocked with 57,000 heater meals, to Long Island—one of the first meal deliveries of the relief operation.

Baltodano has been on the job for almost three weeks now, and recently became involved in the procurement side of the relief operation. He visited a shelter in Bohemia, N.Y., which was housing around 50 to 80 local residents. While cots and blankets were well stocked, food and other supplies were running low. Baltodano arranged for milk, oranges, essential foods and baby supplies such as Pampers, to be delivered.

A spooky Halloween

Three weeks on a disaster relief operation brings a variety of experiences. At the beginning, many Red Cross volunteers were staying in shelters.

“There were two of us sleeping at a high school the first day,” Baltodano recalled. He said it was spooky staying all alone in a high school around Halloween.

After that, Baltodano spent several nights in a staff shelter, moving to a hotel when he began working out of Greater NY Red Cross HQ in Manhattan.

“For the most part though,” he said, “our ERV teams and the people working in the kitchens are staying in staff shelters.”

Having a hot dog in New York; it’s something normal

Twenty years of Red Cross experience means that Baltodano has seen the organization develop.

“When I began we didn’t have the quality of food we have today,” he said. “We had MREs; military ready-to-eat meals.”

Today, the Red Cross works hard to provide meals that will make people feel comfortable and remind them of home. The inclusion of salads and vegetables ensures that meals are healthy. A few days ago here in New York, the Red Cross was serving up hot dogs.

“We adapt our meals to each region.” Baltodano explained. “We need to help people get back to normal. And having a hot dog in New York; it’s something normal.”

On this relief operation Baltodano finds it rewarding to sharing the knowledge he’s gained through the years with new Red Cross volunteers. Baltodano explained to the many new ERV drivers that they would see a lot of emotions during the days ahead and that people would be crying on their shoulders. He advised his new colleagues to visualize such situations ahead of time so that they would be mentally prepared.

“It allowed them to be stronger and to be able to help the client,” he said. “Not only be handing them a plate of food, but being the pillar of strength they needed to be.”

The importance of preparedness
The most important message that Baltodano would like to get across is the importance of preparedness.

“Whether it’s for a fire that happens every nine minutes across the U.S., or for a hurricane that may not happen for the next 100 years, you should always be prepared," he said. "And to be involved in volunteer work is the best way to learn preparedness."

Baltodano has just signed on for another three weeks of Red Cross Sandy relief work.

To learn more about his work with the Red Cross, follow him on Twitter at @Twittnrob.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Six Strangers, One Mission

It was 11 am and the sun was attempting to pierce through the foggy sky in Lido Beach, Long Island. With a huge smile on her face, Faye Lagares of Queens, N.Y., began loading food, water and comfort kits filled with blankets, trash bags and other items into Red Cross vehicles.

Faye, who works for Citibank, is a brand new volunteer. Citibank’s volunteer program is dedicated to connecting their employees with volunteer opportunities in their communities.

“A request came in for around 50 volunteers and in a matter of hours every slot was filled,” said Faye. “Many of our employees were affected [by Sandy] and I just felt I needed to do something.”

Jessica Fleurimond from Philadelphia, Steve Brown from Texas, Giselle Gomez from California, Kabir Tombat, an AmeriCorps member currently working with the Greater New York Red Cross region, and Joel Greenberg, a Red Cross Long Island board member all joined Faye, going door to door throughout Lido Beach distributing meals and supplies.

One of the team’s main goals was to reach senior citizens living in high-rise apartments who still did not have power. At each building, the group divided into teams of two, going to floor-to-floor and ensuring that all residents received food, water, blankets and supplies.

“It was just truly incredible how we all quickly came together to help,” said Giselle Gomez. “At the end of the day, we were not strangers, but instead a family.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Red Cross Offers Health Care Assistance in the Wake of Sandy

Zamia Garcia sits as American Red Cross volunteer John Griffiths, an EMT from Rochester, New York, checks her blood pressure. She said she was glad to know she had nothing to worry about. Zamia was among thousands of New Yorkers affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Zamia Garcia was busy picking up clothing and food at the Coney Island distribution site where the American Red Cross was among several relief agencies offering assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

She was among hundreds of Coney Island resident who passed by the Red Cross table where registered nurses, EMTs and mental health counselors waited to help the steady stream of people passing by. She stopped and asked about whether they could check on her blood pressure.

John Griffiths, an EMT from Rochester, New York and Red Cross volunteer, led Zaima to a chair where he applied the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope to her arm to check her blood pressure. He told her the blood pressure reading which Zamia said she was relieved to know.

Myrna Sullivan, a registered nurse who came from St. Louis as a Red Cross volunteer, provided nutritional counseling and assurances regarding her diet. That is normal in this situation because you have been under stress, she explained and Zaima said she felt relieved to hear that. Myrna said the main concerns the health care workers have seen include blood pressure, diabetes and asthma, all conditions often made worse by a great amount of stress such as what thousands of New Yorkers have endured since Sandy.

Health care workers also walked around talking to people waiting in line to see if they had any issues needing immediate attention.

In some cases, people couldn't refill needed prescriptions because their pharmacies were damaged or destroyed by the storm. In those cases, the Red Cross works with the people to connect with another pharmacy. In addition to health care, Red Cross volunteers also provided hot meals and distributed to nearby residents laundry bags filled with such items as a blanket, flashlight and batteries, packages of towels and hand sanitizers.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Kuhlmann

Jim Kuhlmann is the manager of the American Red Cross Kitchen No. 1, operating in the Home Depot parking lot on Staten Island, but that doesn’t mean he spends his days slaving over a hot stove. Jim is in charge of getting meals prepared, loaded onto Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) and sent out each day to the thousands of people rebuilding their lives from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.

When an ERV arrives in any given neighborhood, many people line up to get hot meals, snacks and water. At times, people are reduced to tears when handed their hot meals and they thank the Red Cross volunteers for helping them.

It’s this kind of scene that makes Jim feel like he is really in the people helping business.

“The whole purpose of this is to serve the client,” said the Wichita resident, now on his 12th Red Cross deployment. His first deployment was as an ERV driver after Katrina.

Those working with Jim praise his quiet, deliberate manner in running the operations which includes loading some two dozen ERVs with 8,000 to 10,000 lunches and dinners each day for delivery to those in need.

As the ERVs line up to receive supplies at the various pallets, Jim watches as the vehicles move in and out of the area and is satisfied with what he sees. The goal is to have all of them loaded and on their way within an hour.

Near the large trailers parked with various items destined for distribution is the area where the food is cooked by members of the Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers.

Jim’s boss is Steve Ade, of Salina, Kansas, the mass care (feeding) chief who oversees four kitchen operations, including the one on Staten Island.

Steve said, “He runs it like a sewing machine. Any Red Cross disaster response I’m on, I want Jim running the kitchen.”

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Blythe Argenbright

Manhattanite Blythe Argenbright has been a Red Crosser since 2006, when she interned at the Boston chapter while in college. In 2009, having moved to Atlanta, she volunteered during that year’s devastating floods, helping provide food to affected individuals and families.

Argenbright relocated to New York City last year, just before Hurricane Irene hit. She immediately pitched in, volunteering for Red Cross staffing services during the Irene relief effort.

Not surprisingly, Argenbright began volunteering for Sandy before the storm hit, coming to Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan on Sunday, Oct. 28. She’s been here for at least a few hours a day ever since.

At first, she helped staff the volunteer hotline: “It was inspiring to see how many people were emailing and calling,” she said, “even while the storm was going on, hoping to help fellow New Yorkers.”

Since then, Argenbright, who is a case manager at the Center for Urban Community Services, a women’s transitional living facility, has been registering volunteers for the Sandy relief effort morning before work and on the weekends.

“I like the work the Red Cross does,” she says. “It’s effective in meeting community needs in times of disaster.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Amanda Sun

Amanda Sun of Bellevue, Washington, was on vacation in New York when Hurricane Sandy brought devastation to a large swath of the New York and New Jersey coastline. After finding her flight was canceled, Amanda realized she now had an opportunity to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Keen to help in any way she could, Amanda extended her stay so she could volunteer with the Greater New York Red Cross. Over the last eight days Amanda has been out in the field with the Red Cross mobile feeding teams, bringing much-needed supplies to residents in storm-impacted areas.

She has also been involved in administrative work and feeding operations. Amanda says that one of the best parts of volunteering with the Red Cross is the people she meets and the shared interest in volunteering and humanitarianism.

Volunteer Spotlight: Pat Gilliland

Pat Gilliland is a long-time Red Cross volunteer from the North Florida chapter. Pat is just one of many Red Cross volunteers from across the U.S. who have been deployed to the Greater New York Region to help deliver Red Cross services to the communities most impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

In a disaster as large-scale as Sandy, local Red Cross chapters rely on the support of volunteers from other regions in order to put into action a complex relief operation. For Hurricane Sandy, Pat has been working as a mass care (feeding) administrator, a role that involves organization, problem-solving and an ability to stay calm in what is often a very stressful situation. Pat says she has dedicated herself to volunteering because of the help she is able to give to people.

Friday, November 9, 2012

NAACP/Red Cross Disaster Strike Team

The NAACP Red Cross Disaster Strike Team has been on scene helping survivors of Hurricane Sandy since Nov. 1, 2012. This extraordinary team works in tandem with the Red Cross, helping to feed victims of disasters and to distribute relief items, including Red Cross comfort and cleanup kits.

Team leader Gene Collins revived an agreement between the Red Cross and the NAACP from 1981. Since Collins has taken this agreement under his care the team has expanded to approximately 100 members nationwide. They now deploy wherever the Red Cross deploys. Recently, they were deployed to Louisiana, Florida, Joplin Missouri, and now New York City.

Gene Collins, who is heading up the NYC group, goes ahead of the team and does an assessment of communities and reports the needs back to the Red Cross for action. Another member, George Thomas, said they received a request for 5,000 blankets and some hot meals from one New York community. Because of their outstanding ability to connect with the communities they serve, this “strike team” is extremely effective.

On a recent mission during the current Superstorm Sandy deployment, the team came upon a family who was concerned about their 79-year-old aunt whom they had not heard from since the storm’s impact. She was on the 17th floor of a high rise apartment building. The NAACP and Red Cross volunteers climbed the 17 floors. Leonard Favorite, Gene Collins and James Richardson were able to reach her.

Leonard said, “I knocked on the door and told her ‘I came all the way from Texas to rescue you.’”

He carried her to the ground floor and re-united her with her family.

Leonard said, “There were many tears of joy shed when she was reunited with her family.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Sandi Bednorz

By Gemma Haywood

When Hurricane Sandy hit America’s east coast, creating a storm surge that decimated thousands of homes, Sandi Bednorz knew she had to help.

Hearing an urgent request for Red Cross volunteers, Bednorz responded. This was her first time volunteering with the Red Cross. Alongside other volunteers she undertook disaster response training and has since been working as a Red Cross mass care (feeding) coordinating manager in New York City, as part of the ongoing Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief operation.

Bednorz moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., from Orlando, Florida, eight months ago. Just before the arrival of the Hurricane, she had quit her job as a corporate event planner. This gave her the flexibility to sign up with the Red Cross to help those affected by Sandy.

Her daily activities include facilitating staff communications, creating organization charts, identifying staff work space, and helping in other areas wherever needed.

“I’ve been here for eight days volunteering thirteen hours a day, and I do it because it’s what you do, you see people in need and you help them,” she said. “Knowing the amount of people we are helping, knowing how many meals the Red Cross kitchens make and it's all volunteer-based is very satisfying."

Volunteer Spotlight: Vangie Hansen

By Giselle Gomez

Vangie Hansen, a licensed professional counselor, has traveled from Grand Junction, Colo., to assist with the relief and recovery efforts for Super Storm Sandy. As a part of the Disaster Mental Health Team, she is riding along with Red Cross emergency response vehicles (ERVs) based out of Fort Tilden in Queens, N.Y., that are traveling to hard hit areas like Breezy Point and the Rockaways.

The Disaster Mental Health Team is focused on providing crucial emotional support to residents of affected communities.

“There are great needs after a disaster,” said Vangie. “I feel honored and privileged to be able to help people that are going through hardships.”

Vangie is on her first national deployment and loves going out with the emergency response vehicles. Vangie and the disaster mental health team’s presence on the ERVs brings a truly holistic Red Cross response that includes not only critical supplies like food, water and blankets, but equally important emotional support and comfort to residents impacted by Super Storm Sandy.

“I loved being out at Breezy Point … knocking on doors and asking people how are they doing,” said Vangie. Their response was, ‘It’s so good to see a Red Cross person here.’”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Todd Mosely

Todd Mosley, ARC Volunteer from Philadelphia, Mississippi is on his first assignment as a Shelter Manager. However, by listening to the praise from the shelter guests you would never know it is his first DR. In interviewing the guests they ...used words like awesome, compassionate, caring.

Raquel Bloomfield, Yonkers resident, displaced from her condemned apartment building, said "We love it here in the shelter. We feel safe. Todd makes us feel valued, no matter our circumstances. He is compassionate and listens to our needs. He even had a Halloween party and parade for the children. My kids don't want to leave."

Todd comes from a social service background and is a Community Response Coordinator in MS. He said, "The core values of the Red Cross parallel what I believe in and how I live my life. I like to spoil the clients, but I can also be firm when there are issues. I try to put myself in their situation. I love this job."

From the looks of the neat and orderly shelter, his action and attitude exemplify why we are all here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Krystal Richardson

by Giselle Gomez

With a bright, neon colored snow flake beanie and gloves, Red Cross volunteer Krystal Richardson from Laurel, Mississippi patiently waited in her emergency response vehicle. Her vehicle was one of several loading up at Ford Tilden in Queens, NY with food, water, blankets and supplies to be distributed throughout the impacted areas of Breezy Point and the Rockaways.

Having experienced Katrina, the 23-year old is all too familiar with disasters. “We went through something similar to this. We were out of power for three weeks,” said Krystal. “The Red Cross was one of the first responders, giving us food and water.”

Krystal has been volunteering with her local East Central Chapter in Mississippi for two years. Her enthusiasm and passion to give back to others is evident. “I love going out and helping people,” said Krystal.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shelter Residents Find Refuge in Yonkers

Shelter Resident Racquel Bloomfield and Red Cross Volunteer Carl Kologie
Red Cross shelter resident Racquel Bloomfield, holding back tears, said, “Thank God for the Red Cross, without them we wouldn’t know what to do.”

The Yonkers, N.Y., native, her three children, Airiel, 17, Kenneth, 12, and Gabrielle, 5, along with her mother, Lorna Bailey, were driven out of their home by Superstorm Sandy.

“We were so scared, with the rain and trees hitting the windows. And by 8 o’clock that evening a fire started,” apparently triggered by sparking electrical outlets.

Fire officials forced the family to evacuate and they were sent to the Police Athletic League building on North Broadway Street were a shelter had been opened and was managed by the American Red Cross.

“They have been so wonderful to us. The food has been good and every-one is very courteous.”

Red Cross workers were sent to accompany the family to neighboring Mt. Vernon to help her pick up necessary medications. But Gabrielle begged her mother, “Let’s go back to the place (shelter) where we were living.”

Bloomfield said her children pleaded, “Let’s go back, we love it there.”

She added, “This is the safest place that we can be. We feel so secure.”

This Red Cross shelter hosted lots of fun activities for the kids to lessen the pain of being away from home. Residents look to this shelter as a bright spot of blue sky.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cadet Response Team Members Help at Long Island Hurricane Shelter

Members of the Cadet Response Team gather for a “class photo” after completing American Red Cross training on sheltering.

They were immediately assigned to the Red Cross shelter at East Hampton High School in Long Island where they helped set up the shelter in anticipation of arrival of evacuees displaced by Hurricane Sandy. The cadets subsequently helped with shelter feeding and logistics.

"The experience proved valuable for the team," said Virginia Lopez who oversees the non-profit group with her husband, Ralph.

Cadet Response Team provides children and youth the know-how of military training and teamwork so they can better serve their communities. With more than 50 years combined experience in the military, cadetting, and search and rescue, Lopez said the program offers a well-rounded educational and physical training that can improve safety and well-being.

She adds that the program brings real world military training experience so children and youth learn to do more on their own, and for their communities.

Photo: Virginia Lopez, Angel Duran, Giovanni Marrero, Robert Perez, and Ralph Perez