Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Always Seeking New Ways to Help Others

by Alessandro Malave, American Red Cross in Greater NY

Natacha Gomez has always found unique ways to give back and help others. She became a Red Cross volunteer this past last July and just three months later, jumped at the opportunity to deploy to Louisiana to help prepare local shelters for the impending landfall of Hurricane Laura.

Originally from Haiti, where she has lived on and off for most of her life, Gomez remembers her parents prioritizing community service at an early age. Recalling some advice she received as a child, she said: “They told me that unless you put yourself in someone else's shoes you cannot help that person.”

No stranger to disaster, the impact of the 2010 Haitian earthquake was deeply personal to Gomez.

“We really felt the impact,” Gomez said. “We’re from the Northern part of Haiti, and friends of mine and family where lost. I don't think I will ever forget them.”

The year before the earthquake, Gomez created a women’s empowerment organization. She, along with her team members, worked to help women recognize their own value, worth and strength. Gomez still serves as an ambassador for the program today.

A trained chef, Gomez has also used her skill and passion for cooking to help others. A year ago, after the Bahamas was devastated by Hurricane Dorian, she joined World Central Kitchen (WCK), a nonprofit (and Red Cross partner) founded by Chef José Andrés (pictured below next to Natacha) that provides meals to disaster survivors around the world. Her role was to cook meals for the large Haitian community on the island that was badly affected by the storm.

“I think that I was showing love by cooking for the kitchen,” Gomez said. She helped prepare 25,000 daily meals for this particularly vulnerable community for several months.

After a second WCK assignment, this time in Southern Texas supporting migrants, Gomez moved to New York. Motivated by the suffering caused by COVID-19, she joined the American Red Cross in Greater NY as a volunteer and quickly took as much training as possible.

“What I should have done in six months I did in one month,” Gomez laughed.

By the time she completed her training to serve as a Disaster Responder, able to manage emergency relief after a local incident in NYC, Hurricane Laura was making its way towards the Gulf Coast. The Red Cross put out a call to volunteers to travel down South to help and Gomez’ desire to put boots on the ground and turn her experience, training and compassion into action led her to raise her hand and deploy, despite COVID-19. She told herself: ‘there is COVID, but these people [impacted by Hurricane Laura] will also have needs.’

In Louisiana, she helped set up shelters for evacuees, some days traveling hundreds of miles between relief sites. On the night of August 23, when the massive storm made landfall, Gomez and her team were sleeping in a church. There was a lot of wind, but luckily, they were not flooded.

After landfall, Gomez and her fellow volunteers worked long days across multiple locations directing people to shelters. They encountered waves of residents every day and worked hard to guide them toward safe locations where they would find relief.

Back in New York after her 8-day deployment, Gomez looks forward to her new volunteer role helping New Yorkers impacted by local disasters.

“It’s the best feeling in the world being able to wake up and help someone else,” Gomez exclaims. “I am grateful every day to be alive.”

Monday, September 28, 2020

In Case You Missed It

Volunteers aid those in need of care at our non-congregate shelter in Spring, TX. 

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 80 adults and 32 children following 39 local disaster responses. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review
Upcoming Events and Activities

Thursday, September 24, 2020

From the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross to the American Red Cross in Greater NY

Carletha is currently helping wildfire 
evacuees at a hotel in Portland, Oregon

Carletha Woodley-Alves has been a Red Cross volunteer since almost as early as she can remember. When she was a young girl living in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, a small Caribbean nation, she joined the local Red Cross as part of an elementary school program. She continued on with the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Red Cross Society through the rest of her childhood and part of her early adulthood. She moved to Brooklyn in 2001 and joined the American Red Cross in Greater NY a few weeks later.

A few weeks ago, when the Red Cross put out a call for volunteers to deploy to the devastating wildfires out West, she put her thoughts about COVID-19 aside. As she said:

“I think about the people who need help even though it’s in the middle of a pandemic. We need to get them the help and support their needs. I decided that I’m not going to let the pandemic stop me from doing what I enjoy doing and helping people … It makes me emotional when I see people in those situations. I give my life for people, I don’t care who you are, everyone has a right to be treated with respect and dignity. I always try my best to pass that on to everyone.” 

Carletha is currently in Portland providing relief and compassion to evacuees placed in hotels.

Monday, September 21, 2020

In Case You Missed It

Volunteer Cathy Sharpe hands out emergency supplies to families affected by
Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles Louisiana.

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 78 adults and 24 children following 43 local disaster responses. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review
Upcoming Events and Activities 
  • We are actively recruiting for the following volunteer positions: Ready Red Cross Shelter Volunteer, Hurricane Season Reserve Corps. Apply today at www.redcross.org/volunteer! For more information, please contact recruitmentgny@redcross.org.
  • To find a blood drive near you click here.
  • Sept 23: Join us for the New York City Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities for a presentation on Disability Etiquette and Awareness. During the presentation they will go over how to best assist people with disabilities, information on each kind of disability and various accommodations for the home and workplace. (Red Cross Volunteers Only)
  • Sept 29: We have a Sheltering Volunteer Information Session so you can help those in need. Due to predictions for an active hurricane season and the complexities of COVID-19, the Red Cross will need thousands of volunteers to care for people when disasters strike.
  • Sept 29: The Missing Maps Project mobilizes volunteers all over the world to build maps that can be used in disaster response, public health campaigns, and other forms of humanitarian assistance. During this event, you will be helping to build a missing map for the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to assist in forecasting future disaster impacts. (Red Cross Volunteers Only)
  • Sept 22, 24, 30: Prepare, Respond, Recover is a free virtual training about what you and your community can do when natural and man-made disasters strike. Register for an online session here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Happy #HispanicHeritageMonth! This month we celebrate the vibrant heritage and significant contributions that Hispanic and Latinx-Americans have made to our country and to the Red Cross. We salute the service of all our Hispanic and Latinx volunteers. 

Some of their stories are featured below:

Maria Anguiano is a Red Cross volunteer from Queens, N.Y. who has been a very active member of our disaster response team. She originally joined us as a member of MIRA USA, a non-profit organization that promotes the social integration of immigrants in the United States.

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“When I was about 10 years old, back in El Salvador, we got hit by the civil war, and we got a bunch of refugees from our own people. My dad was a leader of the church, so he went to the place that took in all the refugees. Since that experience, my heart and my hands were always open for the people who’d really need it. And the Red Cross values of compassion connects strongly with my core values and what my family taught me to do too. My kids are learning there is this other way to live, to be open to help other people without expecting anything in return because you do it with your heart. Sometimes they say, ‘Dad, you’re tired, you came from work, and now you’re going to that fire in the middle of the night?’ And I say, yes. Life is not about us and not about profit. When you help and you serve, something inside you is satisfied and rewarded. That is the most important thing because happiness is before all else.” –Edras Hidalgo, Authorized Driver, Mass Care and DAT Team Member (#Brentwood, NY) #MyRedCrossLife #RedCrossStory #Volunteer #LongIsland

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"One of the hardest days when I was at the Harlem Service Center for mostly survivors of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico, I think was when I spoke to this one gentleman. And I’m saying hard, because it was hard for me to accept. This gentleman was sleeping in his car for three weeks in the cold, and somebody finally told him go to the Red Cross. In Puerto Rico, he had applied for FEMA and they gave him a number, but he was not aware that FEMA was giving them Temporary Shelter Assistance. So he came to New York with nothing, sleeping in a friend’s car because he had no belongings. And it was hard knowing that he could’ve gotten shelter and meanwhile, he was sleeping in a car for three weeks. He had family, but they didn’t have room for him. I was able to get him a hotel...I think that was one of the hardest things. But to me that gave me even more incentive to get people housed and get people the services they needed. And while I was at the service center, I was able to house close to 40-50 families." - Carlos Menendez, specialty instructor and Disaster Assessment lead for Metro-NY North in Westchester County #MyRedCrossLife

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Nurse Betsy Tirado has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for about twenty years. She is an active member of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN).

Monday, September 14, 2020

In Case You Missed It

On September 13th we celebrated National Grandparents Day. 
It is important for older adults to learn what to do in an emergency during Preparedness Month.

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 108 adults and 39 children following 44 local disaster responses. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below

Last Week in Review

Upcoming Events and Activities
  • Sept 15: NYC Emergency Management is holding a virtual pets and service animals preparedness event. Hear from the ASPCA, the Guide Dog Foundation, and our Red Cross colleague Roxana Petzold about how to include your pet or service animal in your family preparedness plan.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Remembering 9/11: The First Few Hours of the Greater NY Red Cross Response

Every year on September 11 we reflect on that fateful day in 2001 and on the trying weeks, months and years that followed. We do so to honor those we lost, to comfort those still grieving and to thank those who gave of themselves to help us heal.

Just as our nation was forever changed, so was the Red Cross. Our organization’s relief effort—in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa.— was one of the largest in our organization’s history. The response continued for years after the attacks and involved more than 57,000 volunteers and employees from across the country.

No one place was affected as profoundly as our great city and no Red Cross chapter was as deeply impacted than Greater New York; we were at the epicenter of the relief effort. Within moments of the first plane striking the North Tower, teams of Greater Red Cross staff sprang into action to help.

Here is their story:

Minutes after the first plane struck the North Tower, Greater New York Senior Director of Emergency Services Virginia Mewborn and Assistant Director of Operations Max Green left the chapter’s headquarters on Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan to respond to what they then thought was a small plane hitting the World Trade Center.

Green and Mewborn were planning to evaluate the situation to see how the Red Cross could best support emergency personnel at the scene. On the drive down, Green said he felt that if the building were evacuated early, “…it would have been a long-term canteen operation, where we would support emergency workers.”

As they drove, Virginia paged Red Cross Field Operations Supervisor Luis Avila and asked him to join them. Avila, who was in Queens that morning working a second job, could see the smoke from the North Tower from his location. He told his boss he was leaving, and in fact, never returned to that job. As he left, Avila watched in disbelief as the second plane banked and hit the South Tower.

Mewborn and Green, in their car, began to realize that they had not understood the scope of this incident. “As you got onto the West Side Highway you could see the smoke,” said Green. “My heart fluttered. I looked up at it, saying ‘This, this looks a lot bigger than what I thought it was.’”

The two parked on West Street, south of Chambers and walked towards the World Financial Center (WFC). They hoped to find a command group—people from partner agencies like the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), who would be coordinating this disaster response with the Red Cross.

Because her cell phone wasn’t working, Mewborn borrowed a phone at a shoe repair store to call headquarters. Greater NY Red Cross CEO Bob Bender told her four things: a second plane had hit, they were dealing with a terrorist attack, Red Cross would set up a Respite Center downtown for survivors and first responders, and he’d sent an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) down with a Red Cross disaster responder, Kemagne Theagne, to meet them.

Mewborn and Green found a command post on West Street, right across from the Twin Towers. That’s when they saw a horrific sight—people jumping from the upper stories of the Trade Center. They decided they should not get closer; they should in fact return to the chapter to organize the Red Cross response from there.

Meanwhile, Avila had arrived in lower Manhattan and parked on West and Vesey. “When we get to a scene,” he said, “the first person with a vehicle tries to get as close as they can.” He continued on foot to 7 World Trade, where OEM’s offices were located. “I saw debris everywhere, I was wading through rubble,” he said. As he began to follow a group of fire chiefs, the “haunting scenes” around him convinced Avila he should leave. He turned right to regroup with Green and Mewborn, and the first responders turned left, towards the Towers. Avila later learned they had perished.

As Avila approached the WFC he saw Mewborn and Green, and they walked inside together. “We made a deal that we were going to stay together from that point on,” he said, “that we were going to take care of one another.” Avila was able to contact his wife and let her know he was alright, then the line went dead. “What felt like an earthquake” shook the building. It was the North Tower coming down, but they didn’t know that. They thought the WFC was collapsing on top of them. Suddenly, the building’s windows exploded. Avila grabbed Mewborn and Green. They ran, along with hundreds of others, to the West Side Highway, zigzagging their way back to Green’s car.

Meanwhile, Kemagne Theagne, who had rushed down from chapter headquarters in an ERV, was on Church Street, directly in front of the Towers, trying to find the Red Cross staging area for the relief operation he believed Mewborn, Green and Avila were mounting. He had just gotten out of the ERV to help a woman who had fallen, when he heard, “Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.” He looked up and saw the North Tower coming down, floor by floor. “I just froze; I couldn't believe this was happening.”

As people ran out of the lobby towards Theagne, a man grabbed him. The two ran together, holding one another, towards a staircase leading into a subway station with a locked gate. They were now engulfed by choking soot and debris. Theagne tried calling his three colleagues, but his Nextel radio was dead. He said to himself, “I hope, I hope, I hope they made it.”

His colleagues were on their way back to HQ. As they drove, they spotted a man in Red Cross gear they thought was Theagne. They stopped and pulled him into the car, only to realize that it was responder Barry Crumbley, who had traveled to the site on his own to find his wife, who worked in one of the Towers. (She made it out safely.)

Theagne spent the next 45 minutes at the foot of the staircase, “just waiting,” trying to breathe, until he saw some light trying to break through the smoke. “We used that little bit of sunlight to guide us out.” They climbed up the stairs and ran.

After washing himself off at a nearby deli along with dozens of others, Theagne made his way back to the ERV. “I said to myself, ‘I got to get this vehicle out of here.’” He slowly made his way out of the site in the dust-covered ERV, “driving through the spider web what was the windshield.” When he finally arrived uptown, covered in dust and ash, no one could believe he had brought the ERV back.

Mewborn, Green and Avila had already returned, also covered in soot from head to toe. “I don't know if [our colleagues] thought we were dead or they were seeing a ghost,” said Avila. “All I remember saying is give me water… I drank about two liters as quick as I could.”

After giving themselves a few moments to wash up and regroup, they remobilized with the rest of the Red Cross team. “After we realized everybody was okay, we needed to make sure that we had supplies down there,” said Avila.

They needed to get the canteen trucks (the ERVs), down to the site as quickly as possible to replenish the water for the survivors, firefighters and other emergency personnel. “Preparations had already begun when we were downtown,” Avila said, “but whatever needed to be finished we continued to do.”

That included creating a plan to send caseworkers to Penn Station, Grand Central Station and the Port Authority, to position ERVs on the West Side Highway and the FDR Drive, and to get ready to set up a relief operation at the Brooklyn Chapter.

“And we knew that help was on the way,” said Mewborn. Red Crossers were coming from upstate New York and National Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C. There were also lines of people inside Greater NY Red Cross headquarters, waiting to volunteer, give blood or donate money.

“In those first 12, 24, 36, 48 hours,” Mewborn said, “we registered thousands of volunteers and provided service to thousands of people in New York. We did it well, and we started the platform of how we were going to move forward.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In Case You Missed It

Red Cross volunteer Nick Montoro of Syosset, has been in Louisiana since Aug. 28
helping the community recover from Hurricane Laura.

Over the last seven days, the Greater New York Red Cross provided emergency assistance to 92 adults and 25 children following 39 local disaster responses. Here are some highlights from last week and a preview of upcoming activities. (See below)

Last Week in Review
Upcoming Events and Activities