Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Familiar Symbol of Relief

Last week we visited a Sandy distribution hub in Coney Island where hundreds of Brooklyn residents lined up to pick up hot meals and grocery boxes provided by the Red Cross. Among them was Amadou, who came to New York more than 17 years ago from Senegal, West Africa. 

Back in his home country, Amadou was very familiar with the work of “La Croix Rouge,” as the Red Cross is known in Senegal. Post-Sandy, he was heartened to see the Red Cross at work, providing assistance to disaster victims in America too. “This is very nice what they do over here”, he says as he scans the line of volunteers serving hot meals on a chilly March day. 

As a result of Sandy, he lost his job and is now focusing his energy on finding a new one.  The continuing presence of the Red Cross in Coney Island has meant that Amadou has been able to get a hot meal, or a grocery box every day.  “We’re very happy for what the Red Cross does here on Coney Island”, he says.    

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Red Cross was prompt and friendly.

by Michelle Shore

When fire began spreading through Marjorie Farrell’s fourth floor Brooklyn apartment on the bitterly cold night of Feb. 20, the young couple’s first reaction was to warn their neighbors.

“We ran from apartment to apartment telling people,” Farrell said. “Luckily, our six-year-old son, Tawfiq, was staying with relatives,” she added with relief.

They then made several attempts to put out the flames shooting up from their mattress with cups, and then buckets of water. But to no avail. Black smoke began to billow through the apartment, and they ran out.

Farrell was wearing pajamas and socks, but no shoes. A neighbor gave her a piece of cloth to wrap herself in. Her husband was brought into an ambulance and evaluated for smoke inhalation.

Farrell, who is a devout Muslim, rushed down the street to her family’s mosque, where she works and her husband teaches. She began to pray. It was 5 am; just in time for morning services.

When Farrell and her husband returned home, the American Red Cross was on hand to help.

Some of the things the Red Cross made available included a debit card with funds for food and clothing; city housing referrals, and the documentation needed to retrieve her husband’s prescriptions after his medications were lost in the fire.

“Red Cross was prompt and friendly,” she said. “I could relax for a second."

Farrell says she’s no stranger to working to assist and counsel families. On a daily basis she works at the mosque, helping other families in need put the pieces back together.

Moving forward, Farrell said she also wants to get involved in volunteering, possibly even at the Red Cross. She stresses she wants to “give back to the community and help others,” as she was helped.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Maria Castro, Strength in Tragedy

By Ashley Chapman

Maria Castro likes to talk about how her 17-year old son, Jorge Rosario—or Jay Jay, as she calls him—spontaneously dove into the freezing ocean on a cold day last November after a construction job for post-Sandy clean up in the Rockaways.

Not long after that, Jorge was fatally shot in the head at a party in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

For Maria and her remaining three children: Diamond, 12; Reyshawn, 6; and Crystal, 1; the months since then have become increasingly difficult. Three months after the Castro family lost Jorge, they lost their home.

On February 17, a fire started in the apartment next door to the Castro’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Maria was across the street while Diamond was home with the baby, Crystal. Maria saw smoke coming out of the building and started running towards it just as Diamond emerged, carrying Crystal in her arms.

“The first thing I thought was ‘Thank God, my kids are okay,’” said Maria. “But then I began to think, ‘What else will God put in front of me’? I don’t bother nobody, I don’t hurt nobody.”

The fire destroyed the Castro’s apartment on a bitter cold morning when New Yorkers were stocking up on winter supplies, preparing for the snowstorm that was expected to hit the next day.  But unlike most people, the Castros had not only lost their basic supplies—necessities like baby blankets and diapers—they had also lost all of their possessions, including irreplaceable photos of Jorge.

Within hours of the fire, the New York Red Cross provided Maria and her kids with vital emergency support: diapers and a blanket for the baby, a debit card to purchase essential items, and hotel lodging for the entire family. Since then, the Red Cross has helped the Castros get settled into a more permanent home.

“As a mother protecting her children,” said Maria, “if I didn’t have the Red Cross to put us in a hotel, I think I would have just gone to a hospital waiting room to sleep. At least it would be warm and safe there for my kids. Otherwise, we’d be on the streets.”

“My kids are my priority,” she added. She admitted that the past few months have been especially hard on Diamond, who, at 12, is old enough to absorb the pain.

“My daughter cried a lot and said things like, ‘I lost my big brother. Now we are losing our home. What else will happen to us?’” Maria said.

For now, Maria tries to provide her kids a sense of comfort in the routine. On the first Sunday after the fire, she took them to church and then to get ice cream, as they had every other Sunday. That was when Diamond asked her what the Red Cross does.

“I explained to her how the Red Cross has helped us,” Maria said. “And she said, ‘The Red Cross makes us safe. Without the Red Cross, we would be sleeping in our car, Mom.’”

These days, when you ask Maria how she is doing now, she speaks evenly, but then her voice cracks.

“I will not forget about him,” she said. “Everything is hitting me and I’ve got to be strong. I have to stay focused. I thank God every day for waking me up. I say, ‘Today’s a new day, I have to keep my head up.”

With the help of the Red Cross, this task has hopefully been made a little easier.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Red Cross and Stephanie Crispinelli Humanitarian Fund Partner with Primrose Elementary for “Steph's Comfort Kit” Event

by Ehrett Ramey

The second annual Valentine's Day "Steph's Comfort Kit" event was hosted by the Stephanie Crispinelli Humanitarian Fund and the American Red Cross Feb. 14 at the Primrose Elementary school in Somers, N.Y.

Stephanie Crispinelli, herself from Somers and a graduate of Primrose Elementary, devoted herself to helping others, volunteering and making children smile. She participated in mission trips abroad and volunteer projects, especially to help in-need youth. She returned to Primrose to help young students and start youth programs.

Tragically, Stephanie lost her life at age 19 in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while on a humanitarian mission through Food for the Poor. The Valentine’s Day event embodied Stephanie’s spirit, as a group of first graders celebrated her memory by making comfort kits for other children in need.

The day was filled with smiles, as around 100 first graders and volunteers tied together colorful blankets and stuffed comfort kits with all kinds of goodies, including a pillow, a beany baby teddy bear and children’s books.

Watching our youngest Red Cross volunteers in action was an awesome sight, especially in light of their enthusiasm and excitement. It was hard to tell who was having a better time, the adult volunteers or the kids putting together the comfort kits. 

One of the most energetic and productive first graders, Rebecca Fabry, said, “Getting out of class to have fun and help others is the very very best thing.” 

“The second annual Stephanie Crispinelli Day was a huge success,” said Andrew Sindell, manager, Volunteer Resources & Youth Services for the Metro New York North chapter. “The Red Crossers who participated are looking forward to Valentine’s Day next year to continue this uplifting celebration of Stephanie and her legacy.”