Wednesday, November 3, 2021

 “Three Questions” With Sergey Pigach 

By Kenna Beban, American Red Cross in Greater NY 

"Three Questions” is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.                   

Photo Credit: Kevin Suttlehan
Sergey Pigach joined the American Red Cross in Greater NY in the spring of 2020, shortly after the onset of the pandemic. He started out by providing food and household supplies to hospital workers and later began responding to disasters in New York and across the country. Last month, Sergey supported our response to Ida flooding across the city by canvassing affected communities, sharing information, talking to residents, and distributing clean-up supplies. 

Why did you feel compelled to volunteer during the pandemic?  

Obviously, it was an unprecedented situation for all of us. I think, especially in the early days of COVID when no one really knew what it was or how bad it was, there was this sense of helplessness. No one really understood how to deal with the situation. Maybe in some sort of a selfish way, it was also just a way for me to have some sort of illusion of control over the situation in my little portion of the universe. But in the larger sense, I just wanted to help out.  

How did working in the field, and seeing firsthand the damage caused by Hurricane Ida in NYC affect you?  

It served as a reminder of how concealed all of those individual stories are from the public eye. After New York got hit, where I live, nothing really changed. It rained for a night, but I was fine, everybody around me was fine, I didn’t really see any damage. Once we were deployed to those specific neighborhoods that got affected, it was a stark and crazy contrast. You’re driving down the street and everything looks fine, and then you take a turn, and there’s a sunken alley, or an area with very unfortunate topography, where it just looks like a tornado came through. Just walking around there, it felt like a war zone. There were piles of rubble, and people already starting to rebuild and tear down their walls. It’s very sudden and completely unexpected to see. 

We came to one of the neighborhoods in Staten Island where everyone was tearing down partition walls in their houses on the first floor because everything was just reeking of mold. We would come up to the door to hand somebody the cleanup kits and talk to them, and every time they opened the door you could smell the rot and bleach emanating from inside. For a lot of people, this will definitely put them in a very precarious financial position, and for a lot of people, sadly, that will probably mean no longer having a home. 

How did they respond to the Red Cross’ help?  

I think there was a very genuine sense of gratitude. It was very touching when one of the residents who opened the door, she was an older woman with a very strong Balkan accent, and I could tell that she was probably living in the U.S. only for a few years. When I introduced myself, I said, “Hi, we’re with the Red Cross, we just wanted to give you this clean-up kit if you were affected.” She smiled and said, “oh my god, I love this country!” Because she felt like she was cared for. That was a very touching moment.  

Photo Credit: Kevin Suttlehan

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