Thursday, November 28, 2013

Greater New York Red Cross Offers Thanks to Community

Time and again throughout the year, we see Red Cross disaster responders working in the cold, or the rain, or in blazing heat, aiding anywhere from a handful of residents to hundreds of individuals and families who are fleeing horrific fires, floods or building collapses. And always, our responders remain on the scene as long as necessary to provide comfort and assistance to all in need.
What is most amazing is that the majority of these responders are volunteers—local residents giving of themselves to help their fellow New Yorkers in need. In fact, an astounding 95 percent of the Greater New York Red Cross workforce is made up of volunteers.
Their tireless efforts allow us to carry out our lifesaving mission, as does the deep commitment of our donors, our employees and our stalwart partners. These include local fire departments, police departments, and offices of emergency management as well as the innumerable community-based organizations, companies, houses of worship and elected officials that have meant so much to our region over this past year.
We feel privileged to have seen the best in our fellow New Yorkers in 2013, a year in which tens of thousands of New Yorkers continued to suffer from the effects of Superstorm Sandy, and thousands more were displaced by “everyday” disasters, including home fires, floods and building collapses.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these individuals and organizations whose passion, kindness and community spirit have helped so many recover from tragedy.  
We send an enormous thank you to all those who continue to make our humanitarian work possible, as well as our best wishes for a safe and happy Thanksgiving.
Josh Lockwood
Regional Chief Executive Officer
American Red Cross Greater New York Region

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Delivering Toys for Sandy Families for Hanukkah

Suzan Rosen, above, a community recovery specialist for the American Red Cross Greater New York Region, has been helping Sandy-affected families throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn since the spring. For the holiday season this year, Suzan recently delivered toys for Sandy families as part of a Hanukkah Toy Drive by Ansche Chesed, a synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The Social Action Committee of Ansche Chesed collected more than 100 toys to be given to children ranging in age from newborn to 13 years old during the drive, which began Nov. 14 and ended Nov. 25.

Suzan connected Ansche Chesed with Manny Papir, at the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island (JCCGCI), who has been working continuously with Sandy survivors in Coney Island. As a result, the toys were delivered to the JCCGCI for distribution to local families this coming week.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Helping the World’s Most Vulnerable – A Conversation with the Head of the IFRC Delegation to the UN

Time and again when a major disaster strikes somewhere around the world, images of the Global Red Cross network and its volunteers bringing relief to those in need are brought to the forefront. At the heart of each disaster response is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (known as “the IFRC” or “the Federation”).

Before Typhoon Haiyan tore through the Philippines a few weeks ago, we sat down with Marwan Jilani, head of the IFRC delegation to the United Nations, to discuss the role of the Federation here in NYC and around the world.

Below is an excerpt from that interview which helps put into context the work of the IFRC in the Philippines as well as its ongoing support of the most vulnerable populations across the globe.

First, here is some background on the IFRC:

The IFRC is the world's largest humanitarian network, providing assistance without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.

Founded in 1919, the IFRC comprises 189 member Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies (of which the American Red Cross is one), a secretariat in Geneva and more than 60 delegations strategically located to support activities around the world. There are more Societies in formation.

Greater NY Red Cross (GNY): What is the role of the IFRC in a large disaster?

Marwan Jilani (MJ): When a large disaster occurs, such as a major earthquake or flood, the Federation intervenes to bring in aid from other Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies only upon invitation of the National Society in the country or countries where the disaster occurred.

Once this request for assistance is made, the Federation, together with the host National Society, will assess the needs on the ground. Based on this assessment, we will then issue an appeal to all National Societies for assistance.

The National Societies come forward to answer this appeal, when possible, by providing people, funds, supplies, or a combination of all three.

In the affected country [or counties], the IFRC will then coordinate the relief efforts between the different National Societies.

Click here to see how the Global Red Cross Network is working together to respond to Typhoon Haiyan

GNY: What role does the IFRC play outside of disaster response?

MJ: In the absence of a disaster, the IFRC works in what we call the development sector. This relates to issues such as health, water/sanitation and disaster preparedness. The Federation coordinates this work with National Societies, many of which are well known for their programs in these fields.

In many instances, the Federation works with a host National Society to determine the needs and best strategies. We then coordinate with the partner National Societies that are willing and able to provide support and want to help.

The solidarity within the Global Red Cross Network is not just evident when a major disaster occurs, but also in terms of long-term programs like helping combat diseases such as malaria, measles or HIV or helping to build the capacity and infrastructure to respond to future disasters.

This was the case with the American Red Cross disaster mitigation program in Bangladesh.

GNY: Can you explain the IFRC's work in NYC at the United Nations?

MJ: We have quite a privileged status at the UN—observer status. This gives us direct access to the meetings of the UN. It is essentially a direct line to the member countries and provides access to the UN systems, including the Secretary General, his office and his staff.

We speak on behalf of all of the Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies. We advocate for the issues that are important to us—for example, highlighting silent disasters. The IFRC advocates on behalf of the people who are affected by disasters, bringing the attention of the international community to those disasters that do not garner much media attention.

We also represent the National Societies in terms of our interests and our priorities related to the deliberations in the UN on policies, on standards and on the overall development agenda [i.e., health, water/sanitation and disaster preparedness]. We are very much involved in what is called the Millennium Development Goals and post-2015 Development Agenda.

Click here to read more about the work of the Global Red Cross Network at the UN.

GNY: How are American Red Cross volunteers here in NYC connected to their counterparts in other parts of the world?

MJ: Whether you are working with the American Red Cross or with the Ugandan Red Cross, for example, the volunteers and staff speak the same “humanitarian language.” They share the same principles, they share the same understanding of the tools and mechanisms involved in responding to disasters, and they share the same values.

That power of humanity unites us all, unites all our volunteers, and unites all our staff all over the world. That strong feeling comes into play because we are a global movement, the largest humanitarian network of workers in the world—13 million active volunteers, according to a study that was conducted two years ago. I like to think that there are many more volunteers than these.

What is unique about the movement is not only the number of volunteers and staff but the fact that it’s almost universal, a National Society in nearly every single country.

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Response Shift with the Greater NY Red Cross

Photo by Anita Salzberg
by Dorothy He

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to ride along with a Red Cross disaster relief team as they responded to calls for help in Queens and Manhattan.

I left Greater New York regional headquarters in Manhattan with a team of responders who were dispatched from the Emergency Call Center, or ECC. The ECC is the hub of disaster response; it’s where information is gathered to help people in need of emergency assistance and disaster relief in the NYC area.

We first drove to Queens in a Red Cross van to respond to a “vacate,” which is when a tenant or tenants are forced to leave their apartment because it is either illegal or does not meet New York City building safety standards. Many of these vacates involve apartments that are unsafe, because they lack windows, reliable ventilation, and/or fire escapes.

Sometimes the consequences of renting out such an apartment unit can be deadly serious. A few years ago, a family died in a fire in their Brooklyn apartment because it did not have a fire escape.

When we arrived at the apartment, we met with the tenant, Mark. Mark had been living in a very small basement room with no windows, ventilation or means of fire escape. As a self-employed artist, Mark was sad to be leaving behind his home and his workspace, where he had stayed for many years. His apartment was filled with paintbrushes, canvasses and objects that inspired him. I asked him what he drew.

“I draw people like you,” he said, smiling. “Ordinary people, everyday things.”

Despite being sad about leaving, Mark knew he would have to find somewhere else to live for now. The Red Cross secured a two-day stay for him at a local hotel in Queens; we also provided him with a debit card with emergency funds for food. The responders invited Mark to visit Greater New York headquarters as soon as possible to speak with a caseworker about further services, including a new place to stay. He thanked us profusely.

After we left the vacate, the responders were notified of a basement fire in an apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. We immediately drove to there, and were greeted by firefighters. Luckily, they had arrived quickly and contained the fire, which was started by an oil leak, within minutes.

Although it was not a large fire, there was heavy smoke damage throughout the basement and in the kitchen of the superintendent’s basement apartment as well. Earlier, when the smoke began seeping into rooms upstairs through radiators, firefighters had to enter apartments on higher floors to open the windows and let the smoke out.

Thankfully, there was no damage to any of the upstairs apartments. Although the building’s residents — some of who were returning from lunch — seemed a bit shaken, everyone was okay. We gave the superintendent, Antonio, a fire cleanup kit. Fortunately, he and his family will be able to stay in his apartment after airing it out and clearing small debris.

“I did not even know that the Red Cross would be here to provide assistance after a fire,” he admitted. “My family and I are very grateful for the help of the Red Cross.”

The experience of the ride-along was truly humbling and very eye opening. As a communications intern, I spend most of my time in the office, so going out into the field with the disaster response volunteers was an interesting change. The trip allowed me to see firsthand the impact the Greater New York Red Cross has on the everyday lives of New Yorkers. While disaster response is a very serious commitment, one fun aspect of it is seeing parts of the city while en route to fires and vacates that one might never otherwise visit. Volunteers also have the opportunity to meet ordinary New Yorkers and touch their lives.

As the Red Cross motto states, the organization helps people “Down the street. Across the country. Around the world.” At Greater New York headquarters, volunteers and employees work tirelessly to bring aid to their neighbors and fellow New York City residents, just down the street.

Just a few hours from New York by plane, Red Cross volunteers are helping Illinois residents recover in the aftermath of dangerous tornadoes that tore through 11 Illinois cities last week.

And around the world, the American Red Cross is currently providing assistance to the Red Cross of the Philippines in their effort to aid those affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

As an intern, I am proud to work with the American Red Cross in its efforts to address humanitarian needs at a local, national and global level.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

IHL Action Campaign Training—Raid Cross

See more photos.

Seven college students from Columbia and Fordham Universities played the roles of civilians, soldiers, prisoners of war and humanitarian workers during this year’s Raid Cross event, held November 16 at Greater New York Red Cross regional headquarters in Manhattan.

Raid Cross is a role-playing simulation activity that helps students ages 14 to- 21 to understand basic rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which protects human life and dignity during times of war. Role-playing helps participants see conflict situations from different perspectives.

Each participant in last week’s event is an IHL Action Campaign team leader who will work with a group of Red Cross high school volunteers during the Spring semester. The students will create an action campaign both within their schools and in their surrounding communities to spread awareness about the rules of war.

“This year’s cohort of IHL Team Leaders is especially impressive,” said Amanda Crabbe, Greater New York regional manager, Youth Services. “They are passionate and committed to the program. I know that when paired with the Red Cross High School Club members, they will come up with creative action campaigns. I cannot wait to see the end results!”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

For Red Cross Volunteer, Typhoon Haiyan Hits Close to Home

Story and photo by Anita Salzberg

Since Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines this past weekend, Ronnie Rigos knew he wanted to throw himself into the American Red Cross Haiyan relief effort. Rigos, a 25-year New York resident now living in Brooklyn, and a five-year Greater New York volunteer, hails from Quezon Province, about 45 miles north of Manila, the Philippine capital city.

“I literally jumped at the opportunity to be part of this response,” Rigos said. “It means so much to me personally.”

He, along with fellow volunteers and employees, has been eagerly taking calls from people searching for loved ones in the area devastated by Haiyan. From filling out tracing inquiries on missing relatives, to providing information on ways to support the Red Cross International Response Relief Fund, to offering emotional support and “being there” for people in this difficult time, Rigos is doing it all, including taking on a leadership role in the Greater New York response.

“I've reached out to local Filipino-American community leaders, established point-of-contacts and helped coordinate the services our local Red Cross is offering,” he said.

Rigos’ mother, sisters, brothers and other relatives remain in Quezon Province. Though they are safe, he has yet to hear from distant relatives and close family friends who may have been in the region hit by the typhoon.

He says he regards the American Red Cross, and especially the Red Crossers in the Greater New York region, as an extended family, and wants to thank everyone in the region, “For their enormous care, warmest of thoughts, awesome support, thoughtful kindness, and for being there, always.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Red Cross Participates in Veteran’s Day Parade

Photo: Evan Marcy
For the fifth year in a row, volunteers from the American Red Cross Greater New York Region handed out hot beverages to veterans and service members marching in the Veteran’s Day Parade on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Nov 11.

Seven Greater New York volunteers and five JetBlue volunteers staffed a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle located at 26th St. and Madison Ave. In addition to hot beverages, they handed out snacks and bottled water donated by JetBlue, as well as information on the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program and the Holiday Mail for Heroes campaign. An estimated 500 veterans and service members were served.

See more photos here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Red Cross Volunteers Support Typhoon Haiyan Relief Effort in Greater NY

Red Cross volunteer Felicity von Sück is helping staff the Greater NY Red Cross Call Center at regional headquarters in Manhattan.

New Yorkers trying to locate loved ones in the Philippines as well as those coping with the emotional trauma caused by the storm, can phone the call center at 1-877-REDCROSS (877-733-2767) for assistance.

“I’m here to be as helpful as I can to the people of the Philippines who can’t get in touch with each other,” Felicity said. “Hopefully I can help make things a little better.”

David Narvaez (below), another Red Cross volunteer helping out in the Call Center, said, “I’m from the New York area and I want to make an impression on the Philippine people that we’re with them, in this crisis. My wife is from the Philippines so I have an added interest in helping people.” 

Canvassing in Woodside, Queens

Sean Mckee (above, right) and Kanhong Lin (above, left) are both emergency responders for the NPRC AmeriCorps program at the Red Cross with Sean Murphy (back left) and Tyrell Tomlinson (back right). They spent part of Tues., Nov. 13, in Woodside, Queens, canvasing in Woodside, Queens, to let the Filipino community know about Red Cross tracing services available to those who are unable to reach loved ones after Typhoon Haiyan.

Sean said, “When we told people ‘We’re here for a way to get in contact with your loved ones,’ people immediately lit up and said they wanted to know more.”

Kanhong Lin added, “It’s good for the Red Cross to be out in the community and show interest and say, ‘We know you have family back home and we want to work with you.’”

Friday, November 8, 2013

“I couldn’t have made it without the Red Cross.”

Randall Cain and his maternal grandmother, Christmas 1969. Cain, just 21, was enroute to being assigned to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It could be said that Randall Cain, a former Marine and Coast Guard member who lives on Staten Island, is grateful to the American Red Cross six times over—as many times as he has been helped by the Red Cross during the past four decades.

Forty-four years ago, in May 1968, Cain was a young Marine serving at Camp Pendleton in San Diego when his mother underwent brain surgery in Washington, D.C. The Red Cross, through its Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program, contacted the Marine Corps to confirm the surgery, then loaned Cain emergency funds to fly to the East Coast and back.

Although his mother had not been expected to survive more than 24 hours, she lingered in a coma for two weeks, and Cain was able to be with her and his family during that time.

“I was just 19 and so grateful,” he said.

Cain left the Marines in 1972. Two years later, just before joining the Coast Guard, he was living in Brandenburg, Kentucky when a tornado struck, “killing 40 some people,” Cain recalls.

Although Cain survived, his apartment was destroyed. “The Red Cross provided me with blankets, silverware, cooking utensils and food that was lost,” he said. “They took care of everybody.”

Fast forward to 1984. Cain was stationed with the Coast Guard in Puerto Rico when the Red Cross again contacted his command, this time with the sad news that his maternal grandmother, who was in her 90s, had passed away. Within six months, they reached out to Cain’s command again; his paternal grandmother, also in her 90s, had died. Thanks to these notifications, Cain was able to attend both funerals, in Texas and Kentucky, respectively.

Thirteen years later, in October 1997, Cain’s dad, Carson, suffered a heart attack. Once again, the Red Cross verified this situation to the Coast Guard, and Cain was able travel from Puerto Rico to Virginia to be at his Dad’s side for a week. Two months later, the Coast Guard released Cain to fly home for his dad’s funeral after another Red Cross notification.

Cain mentioned that the Red Cross had also played a role in Carson Cain’s military career, after his unit, the 60th Coastal Artillery, Battery E, surrendered to the Japanese at the Battle of Corregidor in the Philippines May 5, 1942.

“I read a few books by survivors of the imprisonment,” said Cain. “The authors, as I recall, mentioned receiving Red Cross packages. So I believe when my dad was transferred to a POW camp in Japan, he may have occasionally gotten Red Cross packages.”

Randall Cain retired from the Coast Guard as a Chief Warrant Officer in 2000, after 26 years of service. For the past 12 years he has worked as a clerk for the NYPD at Manhattan’s First Precinct, located near the Holland Tunnel.

Most recently, this spring, Cain was scheduled for a surgery of his own—to have a pacemaker installed. His son Christian, 23 and a Marine, was stationed at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. Cain contacted the Red Cross by phone, asking to have an SAF representative verify the surgery to Chris’s command. Chris returned home in time to see his father through a successful surgery.

“Now you just call a 1-800 number and you’re connected,” said Cain, noting how easy it has become to receive help from the Service to the Armed Forces program.

“I couldn’t have made it without the Red Cross,” he concluded.

Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) provides humanitarian support to service members, veterans and their families around the clock and around the globe, all under a trusted symbol. Through this program, the American Red Cross facilitates emergency messages about urgent news from home—a serious illness, the birth of a child or the death of a loved one—to service men and women anywhere in the world, including ships at sea, embassies and isolated military units.

Our local SAF program supports our military community in variety of ways, including support to local VA Hospitals, Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point and attending events such as deployment briefings, welcome home ceremonies and other supportive community events such as Fleet Week and the Veterans’ Day Parade.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I was so proud to wear the Red Cross logo.

Red Cross volunteer Elise Wallace and daughter Lucy.
See Team Red Cross Marathon photos here.

Five-year Red Cross volunteer Elise Wallace was thrilled to work as a spotter at this year’s 2013 ING NYC Marathon, supporting the New York Road Runners medical professionals post-finish line. Spotters helped locate and support runners who might require medical attention/evaluations by event medical staff. Additionally, spotters cheered the runners as they finished the grueling 26.2 mile race.

Elise reflected on how it felt to volunteer for the Red Cross at the marathon:

It's hard to put my feelings about yesterday into a short quote but I would say that it was honestly one of the best days of my life. I was so proud to wear the Red Cross logo as I greeted and helped the runners. Whether it was just a big high five or a situation of approaching someone with a real medical need, I found that everyone was comforted by the presence of a volunteer from the Red Cross. 

I approached some runners and others approached me and every time I felt that I had made a difference in their Marathon experience. It is so rare to be a part of a huge human effort that is so positive and good. I was really grateful to be there! 

Needless to say, Elise was also intensely proud of Lucy for completing the race for the Alzheimer's Association in Elise's father's name.