Monday, December 31, 2012

Red Cross recovery efforts continue in the Rockaways

American Red Cross Volunteers, Sandy and Joe French help with feeding hot meals and delivering supplies using the emergency response vehicle in the Rockaway Beach area of New York on 12/28/12.(Mason Rankin photo, ARC)
It’s been 63 days since Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New York and New Jersey and there are still more than 1,000 Red Cross workers assisting with the relief and recovery efforts.

Cold temperatures and snowy conditions may have arrived in much of the Northeast, but that has not deterred the dedication and compassion of Sandy and Joe French, Red Cross volunteers from Modesto, CA.

“We’ve been here in New York for the past eight days, working through the holiday. We’ve been volunteering with the Red Cross for the past eight years,” said Sandy French. “We got married just so we could go out on deployments together,” joked Joe, cracking a smile.

Out in the battered, seaside Rockaways, their spirits and energy levels were high as they drove the Red Cross emergency response vehicle (ERV) on their now familiar and daily mobile feeding route.

As the French’s maneuvered the streets distributing hot meals, bottles of water, and household supplies, they talked with some of the residents that they’ve gotten to know in a short time. They’ve also been checking to find out who has heat in their homes and have been distributing brochures telling people where to get food, supplies and emotional support.

“Just the other day, we gave out about 100 knit hats, so people could stay a little bit warmer,” said Sandy French. The French’s have a friend back in California associated with a local nonprofit agency. The agency had a knitting drive and collected homemade hats for men, women and children. When the group learned that the French’s were coming to work on Red Cross Sandy relief efforts, they sent the hats along with them to give to New Yorkers.

The Red Cross disaster relief effort has now transitioned into the recovery phase with government and community partners. This includes an active collaborative effort among the Red Cross, FEMA, state and local government agencies, as well as community organizations, to provide long-term recovery resources. The key is for residents in communities affected by Sandy to know where to go and how to get future resources to rebuild their lives.

For information on updated feeding/recovery efforts in NY, please visit

Monday, December 24, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Jean Curry

Jean Curry, an American Red Cross volunteer from the Phoenix Grand Canyon chapter, is a Disaster Action Team member who also handles Service to the Armed Forces caseloads. Additionally, Curry deploys nationally to major disasters as a client caseworker. In this role, she provides families with needed services, helping them move towards recovery.

An active blood donor for the past three years, Curry was scheduled to donate on Dec. 4. However, her plans were abruptly changed when she was deployed to New York City to help with the Superstorm Sandy relief effort.

When Curry hopped on a plane for New York on Dec. 3 she learned that a blood drive was being held at the Greater New York Red Cross headquarters, where she would be working. She seized the opportunity to donate as soon as possible.

“I know this is the right thing to do. I’m saving a life, and that makes me feel so good,” she said.

A retired social worker, Curry says that her volunteer involvement with the Red Cross is very satisfying, “It gives me all the flexibility I want and the opportunity to help others.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

California Elementary School Class Salutes Sandy Heroes

The fifth grade class of Kingsley Elementary School in Pomona, Calif., made packets for Red Cross volunteers, firefighters, and police officers helping with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

The packet is called a “Tool Kit for A Hero” and is made up of the following items, along with a note explaining their significance:

Mint – You are with a mint and for your commit “ment” to help all of us.

Rubber Band – To help you come back after you’ve been stretched thin.

Pennies – For the wonderful “change” you have made in all of our lives.

Tea Bag – for being so “Tea” riffic.

Paper Clip – To help keep it together.

Life Saver – You are a lifesaver and a hero.

Band-Aid – For all the aid you provide and all the healing you have done.

Tootsie Roll – You are a wonderful “roll” model, and for the important roll you plan in our lives.

Gum – You have shown us how to “stick” together and accomplish anything we put our mind to.

Puzzle Piece – You are such an important piece of our picture of America and a picture of a hero.

A Piece of String – So you will have a little more length when you are at the end of your rope.

Smile – So you know we are thinking of you and smiling.

This class has been reading about the relief efforts and wanted to express their appreciation to the Red Cross, firefighters, and police for all of their hard work and dedication.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Walk through Queens—A Realization of New York’s Resiliency

by Eric Kiltz

Breezy Point, a quiet, picturesque neighborhood located on the Rockaway peninsula in the south of Queens, never looked like the rest of New York City. As a private community, it hosts three of the few remaining volunteer fire departments in the New York area and its own private security force. When Hurricane Sandy blew into New York, Breezy Point faced stress as it never had before.

The American Red Cross public affairs team arrived in the morning of Nov 13 to document the work done by the Red Cross and the role it is playing in the recovery of this community. After refueling at a FEMA fuel point due to ongoing fuel shortages, we hoped the 10 gallon limit would allow us to complete our day’s mission and make it back to headquarters in Manhattan.

Our trip was worth it. We encountered some amazing people in this neighborhood: residents, volunteers, emergency workers and the people already trying to rebuild their lives.

Red Cross workers are dispatched in from all over the nation to assist after large disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. The Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Oregon we encountered was a perfect example of Red Cross workers’ dedication. We followed it as it snaked through police roadblocks, debris and mud-covered streets in its mission to bring hot food to cold people.

The ERV made one particularly notable stop in the parking lot of a restaurant called Kennedy’s. Kennedy’s has received outstanding reviews online reviews and had been a focal point in the community featuring incredible views of the Manhattan skyline. When we saw it, it was covered with discarded appliances and furniture. A look inside revealed a floor covered in sand, walls covered in mold. One woman I spoke with, a heartbroken owner of the restaurant, told me through tears how the restaurant had been her family’s livelihood for years. When asked if she would re-open, she seemed unsure.

The parking lot of Kennedy’s was as a drop off point for supplies donated by the community. It was a rainy day so a frantic effort was being made to cover the supplies with tarps. In a disaster, we tend to focus so much on the larger issues like food and shelter. But sometimes, just the little things can make someone’s day, such as the man who arrived to find a roll of toilet paper—the stores had been out for weeks, he said, and was immensely grateful. This man told us that he had been to other disaster sites with another organization so was happy to see help coming in to his neighborhood. His home had one-and-a-half feet of water at the height of the storm.

Another woman told us her extended family had been staying at her house—she now had eight people living with her. We helped her load up with water and canned food. She still had no electricity or gas service.

Spiritual Care is an assistance many people don’t realize the Red Cross offers. A nondenominational service, the Red Cross recognizes its clients have their own urgent religious and spiritual needs in a disaster. We met two volunteer chaplains who had spent the previous day in Breezy Point and who took us on an impromptu tour. They told us tales of clients breaking down over the loss of their homes, yet experiencing relief at finding a remaining photograph or other small memento. Breezy Point citizens seemed grateful for the Red Cross spiritual care visit, if only to use the Red Crossers as a sounding board to share their emotional experiences.

We walked many impassible side streets during our tour of Brooklyn. In the cold, wet weather, the streets were a hardship faced by all, including two men pulling a pump in a children’s wagon so they could remove the water from their home. Debris was everywhere, but debris was only part of the problem. The hardest obstacle was the sand. Sand was virtually everywhere: covering streets, burying homes thousands of feet from the beach, immersing yards. It was impossible to get close to the homes to offer help—or even take pictures.

The most heartbreaking and poignant place we visited was our final stop. At some point during the storm, a fire started in a home and it quickly spread to more than 100 surrounding houses. The local volunteer fire department was unable to reach the fire due to the storm—neither could the New York Fire Department. Entire blocks of homes burned down to their foundations. Little was left that was recognizable. Many of these homes were summer homes; those owners would at least have a place to go. Not all of the homes were summer homes, though; several inhabitants were there sifting through the rubble.

Hurricane Sandy produced countless stories of heartbreak and hope. There are many images of people helping one another hand-in-hand. One image that will remain in my mind for a long time is that of a smoldered fire hydrant with a freshly painted American Flag in the background. New Yorkers are a resilient people; they have encountered much adversity. One lesson I have learned is that New York will always be a great American city—it will rebuild, and it will come back better than ever.

Eric Klitz, who volunteered with the Sandy Relief Operation in NYC, works for the American Red Cross in California.

Red Cross Volunteers Deploy for Second, Third Terms

Daniel Lozano (far right) had finished his tour of duty.

After working for the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief for two weeks, wading through two feet of water in New Jersey, stocking the warehouse and serving hot meals and whatever the Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) could hold, he flew back to San Antonio to resume his life. Then the memories of the people in need started to nag him; then his feeling toward Red Cross service began to call; then the next thing he knew, he was on a plane back to New York.

On Thanksgiving Day, Lozano was on a crew distributing hundreds of meals to people rebuilding their homes – and their lives – in Island Park, Long Island. Now on his second deployment, he has been out on another ERV handing out more relief supplies, seeing new faces and overcoming new challenges in the fifth week of the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

"I was a client from Hurricane Charlie. Before that, I had no idea about the Red Cross,” said Lozano. “In fact, I was one of those people who wouldn't even give to the United Way because some of that money went to the Red Cross. I was still mad about having to pay for coffee when I was in the military and came home from overseas in 1957 – 1958.

“Look at me now! I drive an ERV. This is my second time out on Hurricane Sandy. I've been in Tinton Falls, NJ, and Pennsylvania, and now back in New York.

“I love it.... Not the circumstances that bring me here. It's hard what people are going through. But I love this work and the Red Cross."

Photo: The team of Red Cross ERV truck 1142, Alan Herdle, Bart Bardaluccio, and Daniel Lozano in Island Park, N.Y., Thanksgiving Day. The trio distributed 250 Thanksgiving dinners and other necessities to residents across the neighborhood, which is slowly recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Teaming Partnership

by Jeramie Williams

Weekends on the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief effort call for an extra push – food and water to stock up on, comfort and clean-up kits to load, and trucks of all shapes and sizes to drive from the warehouses to the Red Cross staging sites.

“Some of our guys get only one day off, and their wives already had jobs lined up for them,” said Rich Caldwell, a Teamster from Milford, Pa., and one of the dozens of Teamsters helping out on the Red Cross Sandy mission. “My wife said, ‘Go on, get out of here!’”

Hurricane Sandy has fomented a unique partnership between the Tri-State Teamsters and the American Red Cross combining the union's logistics expertise with the agency's resources. Teamsters, a group of unionized drivers living and working across the region, prepositioned goods, operated the forklifts, and drove 16-foot box trucks loaded with urgently needed supplies from the New Jersey warehouse to the far-reaching areas devastated by the worst hurricane to hit New York in years.

Out in the field, they also helped identify stricken communities that hadn't been served, helping to identify the need for an emergency shelter in Long Beach, N.Y., and a distribution site at the Brooklyn Cyclones’ parking lot in Coney Island.

In another Teamster effort, a public official called to inform the Red Cross that the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, N.Y., needed help. The neighborhood in which it was located was also without power or heat, and the people lacked a hot meal and safe drinking water.

“The Red Cross has an amazing capacity and has been responsive,” said George Miranda, President of Teamsters Joint Council 16. “We have the members in place that can get it to the locals. We’re heading in the right direction. The partnership is working well.”

Laura Hevesi of the Red Cross praised the Teamsters with whom she worked: “Some came out night after night, making the long drive from Jersey City to staging points in far-flung places, ensuring everything people needed would be available the next day.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Volunteer Spotlight: Andi Lee

Like many Hurricane Sandy Red Cross volunteers, Andi Lee, a bookkeeper and design consultant in Indiana, left her family (her husband and three children) at home while she dedicated two weeks of her time to helping people affected by the Oct. 29 disaster get back on their feet.

Although she is a regular Red Cross volunteer with her local Saint Joe chapter, this is Lee’s first deployment outside her region and as such, she didn't know what to expect from the assignment.

Lee initially found herself working in Harlem in Manhattan. Later, she served in Breezy Point on the Rockaways peninsula, as part of an enthusiastic and close-knit outreach team comprising mental health, health services and case workers.

The team, which also includes volunteers from Missouri and Minnesota, has been proactive in searching out local residents to assess their needs, and provide them with any basic necessities or emotional support that they require.

Lee has been impressed with the positivity and resilience of the Breezy Point community, where many residents are still without power and face a lot of work ahead of them to rebuild.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ready, Set, Roll

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the need for trained Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) drivers grew. By the end of November, more than 2,600 American Red Cross workers were supporting shelters, providing food and water at fixed sites, and driving ERVs through neighborhoods to dispense meals and supplies.

Many volunteers—about 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce are volunteers from all over the country—served in November and returned home to fill needs there. Those departures left a void—particularly in the ranks of ERV drivers.

What to do when there aren’t enough ERV drivers? The Red Cross found an instructor among the thousands of Red Cross workers on hand and offered the ERV course to train new teams. There were many takers, so the ERV class – Ready, Set, Roll – was offered more than once.

In the field, ERVs are utilized in three different ways: fixed feeding, mobile feeding, and search and serve. With fixed feeding, ERVs travel to apartment buildings, work sites, community or civic centers, search and rescue sites, emergency services command centers, and even locations where major traffic accidents have occurred. Volunteers then throw open the vehicle’s large side window or back door and hand out whatever supplies are needed at the time.

Mobile feeding is just that—ERVs drive through neighborhoods, stopping at various locations to hand out food. In a search and serve operation, volunteers go door to door, often in high-rise buildings, to distribute food and supplies to those who need them.

With the ERV training in place, a newly trained cadre of ERV crews can say they’re Ready, Set, and can Roll to help those still suffering from the effects of Sandy.

Photos: Syncere Zakee

Volunteer Spotlight: Caroline Belina of Canada

“I like the actual work and meeting such wonderful, sympathetic volunteers – we all connect to support one cause,” reflected Caroline Belina, of Montreal, Canada.

One of many people who have come from Red Cross organizations around the world to join in the Red Cross relief effort in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Belina is grateful for the support and encouragement her family, home branch, and workplace have given her.

Belina joined her local chapter of the Canadian Red Cross at the urging of her mother, who thought she would be uniquely suited to provide help and comfort to those impacted by Superstorm Sandy. Her branch agreed and arranged for her to deploy.

The school system where she teaches agreed to grant her leave without pay, and her teacher’s union stepped in to cover her salary while she was absent from the classroom.

“Everyone thinks this will set a good example for the kids,” Belina said of the support she has received.

Working at a Red Cross distribution site in the Rockaways in Queens, N.Y., she was glad to be a part of the massive relief effort, which has involved more than 15,000 disaster workers in the several states impacted by the storm.

Photo: Canadian Red Cross volunteer Caroline Belina (second from left) and her American counterpart, Theresa Green, helped hand out warm coats to storm victims with New York Liberty retired basketball player Kym Hampton and retired New York Knicks star John Wallace. (American Red Cross/Sue Kariker)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Visually Impaired Volunteer Brings her Positive Spirit — and Seeing Eye Dog – to the Sandy Operation

by Lilly Watson

American Red Cross volunteers of many backgrounds from cities across America fill the fourth floor of Red Cross Greater New York regional headquarters before heading out into the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Leah Seabury, age 24, manages to stand out among her diverse peers. It’s likely that Ralphie, her lovable guide dog, who stands close by on his harness ready to help her move around headquarters and out on visits to disaster victims, helps her do so.

In New York, on her first deployment from the Raleigh Regional chapter in North Carolina, Seabury works in a multitude of service delivery areas, including a Disaster Action Team and Client Casework, her current assignment. Seabury said her passion for public service is what brought her to the Red Cross three years ago when she received Ralphie as her guide dog.

“I love helping people, and if I had my vision, I would work in public safety,” Seabury shared. “The Red Cross gave me the chance to still live my passion for helping others despite my disability. “

Seabury enjoys the opportunity to personally talk to and help people who are at a low point in their lives. A smile lights her face when talking about her work with the Red Cross. She loves how disaster victims willingly open up to her and share what they’ve been through. Often, their stories begin through conversations with Ralphie.

“When I can tell someone has been through a lot, I’ll let Ralphie out of his harness and the family will start loving on him,” Seabury explained. “A person might open up and begin talking to Ralphie about what he or she is feeling before being ready to share with us.”

While Seabury and Ralphie bring needed emotional support to those affected by disaster, Ralphie also is a special addition to the team that can make casework easy for children and parents alike.

Seabury said, “He loves to keep children entertained and comforted, which helps parents get a head start on casework.”

While she is fresh to the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation, Seabury feels like the challenges she faces are no different than any other Red Cross volunteer on deployment: Mostly learning how to be flexible and positive as community needs change. She welcomes anyone with a unique background or ability to come learn how they can bring their skills to bear at the Red Cross.

“There’s always a way you can reach out to help someone through the Red Cross,” Seabury said. “Disabled to me means ‘not able to do,’ but I don’t think there’s a place for that at the Red Cross. I think there is always something someone can do to help others, and it’s all about finding what that is.”

Photo (by Destry Carr): Leah Seabury and Ralphie, her guide dog, at Greater New York regional headquarters after a day out in the field. Red Cross caseworkers like Seabury meet with affected families after a disaster to ensure that their immediate needs are met while they work to begin their long term recovery plan.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Red Cross Portraits - A Jason Florio Project

Click here to learn more about each of these New Yorkers as well as the photographer Jason Florio.

All in a Day’s Work: One of New York’s Finest Volunteers

When Dazzare Jefferson reported to work as an NYPD crossing guard in the days following Hurricane Sandy’s landfall on Oct. 29, she was amazed at the crowd of people in red and white garb—coats, vests, hats, backpacks—streaming past her post near Greater New York Red Cross headquarters.

“When I saw the number of volunteers coming into the building, I knew I wanted to help. There were so many people from all over the world helping and I’m right here at this corner,” she said.

After her morning shift, Jefferson now puts on a red and white vest and gets to work at the region’s volunteer office, helping new volunteers of all ages and professions find their place in the American Red Cross.

“One woman told me that she decided to volunteer on her only day off instead of shopping,” Jefferson said. “I have signed up nurses that came together as a group.”

“She’s one of our best,” said Beth Shook, who manages the local disaster volunteer component of the more than 1,700 Red Crossers currently working on the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

Dazz, as she is know, to her colleagues, brings a wealth of local knowledge to the newly arrived volunteers from around the country and around the world who pass through the relief headquarters on their way to Red Cross assignments.

“I give directions, recommendations and tell them how to get around New York City,” Jefferson said. “It is so fun being here every day and being part of the Red Cross.”

Jefferson plans to continue as a Red Cross volunteer. “I am a liaison between the city and the Red Cross on issues that I can help resolve,” she said. “I try to give a friendly, helpful face to both.”

American Red Cross Service: A New Family Legacy

When Barb Bakalyar, a Board member from the American Red Cross Southwest Minnesota chapter, and her daughter, Sarah Pohlman, trained together to become Red Cross volunteers, they were looking for a change of pace – and a change of scenery.

They had no idea that months later, the Greater New York Red Cross would tap them to help with the largest Red Cross disaster relief operation in the last five years.

When she got the call, Bakalyar wasn’t sure Pohlman, a busy social worker, would agree to deploy to the Hurricane Sandy operation in New York. But Bakalyar had a special trick. “I didn’t give her enough time to say no,” she said from the nursing triage room at the Red Cross shelter at Long Island’s Nassau Community College.

Since she arrived in New York last week, Bakalyar has been working for the nursing team at Nassau Community College, where the Red Cross has set up an emergency health clinic. Pohlman has been in the serving as a client case worker at Sandy Relief Operation headquarters in Manhattan. Both Bakalyar and Pohlman took time off from their full-time jobs in Minnesota to offer their professional expertise in the wake of the devastating storm.

Bakalyar and Pohlman each have skills critical to the recovery response. Since Sandy hit, the Red Cross has provided more than 89,000 health service and emotional support contacts for people who have been living in the toughest of conditions.

Right now, nearly 3,000 Red Cross workers are supporting shelters, providing food and water at fixed sites, as well as driving through neighborhoods to distribute meals and supplies. About 90 percent of these workers are volunteers from all over the country. To date, the Red Cross has mobilized more than 14,800 trained workers to help people affected by Sandy across 10 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Back in Minnesota, Bakalyar works in the nursing industry as a clinical nurse and consultant with Avera. She said that employer’s corporate philosophy of caring for others made it easy to get approval for the spontaneous trip to New York.

Since the American Red Cross’s founding on the Civil War battlefields, nursing care has been a priority of the organization. Bakalyar believes most nurses have a caring, compassionate personality, which ideally suits them for Red Cross service.

“When you’re in the caregiving field, it just feels right,” Bakalyar said about nurses working with the Red Cross. “It feels like what I’m supposed to do.”

Photo by Lilly Watson: Red Cross volunteer Barb Bakalyar serves on a triage team at the Red Cross shelter at Nassau Community College on Long Island. Bakalyar’s team brings needed health services and emotional support to shelter residents recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Helping to Heal the Spirit after Sandy

“We help make the heart good again.”

Those words went with American Red Cross volunteer Ronald Oliver as he visited Red Cross shelters and distribution centers, as well as streets throughout storm-ravaged areas of Greater New York.

Oliver led the Red Cross Disaster Spiritual Care Team, whose members worked alongside health and mental health staff to address the needs of those affected by Sandy in first month after the hurricane made landfall. Their work complemented the ongoing efforts of Disaster Chaplaincy Services, a local spiritual care group that has partnered with the Greater New York Red Cross for many years.

Spiritual Care Team members visited those who suffered the death of a family member in the disaster. They walked the streets in disaster areas, bringing words of comfort to people sorting through their demolished homes.

A visit to Breezy Point, at the far tip of Rockaway Beach, was heart wrenching. One day, Oliver spoke with two women, each of whose husbands drowned in the rising floodwaters. He looked to give them what words of comfort he could.

At the end of the day, in another neighborhood in Breezy Point, he stopped to speak to a woman who had begun digging through the rubble of her fire ravaged home. She pointed to a charred tree stump nearby.

“The woman had taken part of the stump to her sister’s house. After placing it in water, it started to sprout little green buds,” Oliver said.

The tree bud became a metaphor for her life and his hope.

“We will always remember what happened here,” he said, “be connected to it emotionally and know in some way we made a positive difference.”