Thursday, October 6, 2016

One Red Cross: The Story of Heather Paniagua

The Red Cross mission is to shelter, feed and provide emotional support to victims of disasters. Heather Paniagua, a 17 year old high school student from New York, experienced how the Red Cross fulfills that mission every day, in every way, wherever the need exists.

The Red Cross helped Heather Paniagua in NYC and La.
Her story begins six years ago when Heather, her mom, dad and younger brother lived in New York. In order to take advantage of a good job opportunity, her dad left the family in New York and took a temporary job in Louisiana where he worked on cleaning up a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. After six years of commuting between Louisiana and New York, her dad decided to stay in Louisiana and move the family there. This summer, Heather, a senior in high school, and her brother, a seventh grade student, were enrolled in schools in Louisiana.

However, soon after arriving in Louisiana, historic storms flooded their home and they had to evacuate. Fortunately, Heather's dad also owned a trailer-home, then undergoing renovation, on higher ground where they could live. “It was scary there,” said Heather. “The trailer was on high ground but all around us the water was rising. One day we went to buy some food at a local Walmart and when we got there, we found it closed due to the rising waters. We had to drive two towns away to Sorrento, Louisiana, just to buy some soup. After that we heard on the news that even that area was now flooding. It was very scary because we didn't know where to go to get food. Everything was closing.”

“We were lucky the Red Cross was there,” said Heather. “There were Red Cross trucks going around all the flooded areas and giving out food, blankets and whatever else people needed. I remember I asked if I could get some bug repellent because there were lots of bugs everywhere. They got me some and were very nice to us there. The Red Cross also set up a shelter in the Lamar Dixon Expo Center Gym nearby. They were very helpful and we had a nice encounter with them there too.”

When they learned that Heather’s new school was also flooded, her mom and dad decided that Heather should move back to New York and stay with her aunt while completing her senior year and graduating from high school.

After moving back to New York, Heather ran into new problems. When she returned home after her second day at school, she was shocked to find a city inspector there who told Heather and her aunt that they must vacate her aunt’s house due to a building safety problem.

Again, the Red Cross was there to help Heather's family. saved the day. Both Heather and her aunt met with Lilliam Riviera-Cruz, a client caseworker in the Greater New York office who was able to provide a temporary residence for Heather and her aunt and also provide assistance to work with government agencies to find a new permanent residence for her aunt. Meanwhile, Heather is now staying with a friend until she graduates in June, when she will return to Louisiana and her family until she heads to college..

Asked about her experience with the Red Cross, Heather said, “The Red Cross was great! They immediately found us a place to sleep and even gave us MetroCards ... They were always helpful and very optimistic in both Louisiana and in New York. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”

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