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.


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