Back in October of last year, I had just moved into a new role at American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania when I heard about a hurricane approaching the East Coast. When it became clear that the “superstorm” would impact the Philadelphia area, I remember frantically sending out emails to friends, family, and Red Cross partners urging them to take the storm seriously and make preparations. (The Red Cross offers a wealth of great preparedness information - that I was able to share.) I also went about readying my own home – making sure I had all the necessary disaster supplies and bringing outside furniture indoors.
On Sunday evening, Oct. 28, I participated in a Red Cross phone bank on NBC 10, answering calls from viewers seeking information about shelter locations, storm precautions, and much more. It felt great to take part in this effort with our volunteers and to help our region prepare.
I remember that the weather was worsening when I drove home from NBC’s studio that night. On the day Sandy struck, Oct. 29, I went into work to participate in disaster update meetings. Our development team came up with plans for reaching out to donors, but we were also called on to assist with shelters in all five counties we serve. (I previously served as a government liaison at an office of emergency management during Hurricane Irene.)
My sister, home from work, was calling me all day telling me that the weather was getting worse and I should really get home. My boyfriend came to pick me up because he was so concerned about me driving in the dangerous conditions. Many roads were closed by that point, so we drove very slowly and carefully on highways in order to get home. When we arrived, I began to see the heartbreaking images of devastation up and down the East Coast. Shortly after, we lost power. Fortunately, my house had a generator that powered key lights, systems, and appliances, but it was very dark, very few outlets functioned, and there was no Internet or cable.
I brought my disaster kit and flashlight with me to bed that night. When I woke up the next morning, I couldn’t immediately determine the damage inflicted on my area of Montgomery County. I tried to venture out, and I discovered that roads were blocked by downed trees and power lines. I worked from home and made phone calls all day to Red Cross partners asking if they were ok and requesting support.
I was able to return to work the next day (even though my home’s power would be out for the next week), and that’s when the true Sandy chaos began for me. Our department was inundated with people wanting to help. The absolute best thing about working for the American Red Cross is seeing the way Americans open up their hearts — and wallets — during our country’s darkest hours. It is remarkable and so heartening. The only down side is that our department consists of only about 15 people to handle thousands of calls, emails, gifts, events, etc.
My main role during the Sandy response was helping with the huge influx of third party fundraisers. It was absolutely amazing to hear from so many schools, businesses, retailers, and community groups that wanted to hold events to benefit Red Cross Disaster Relief. Working out the details of these events, coordinating marketing materials and volunteers to attend, counting the funds raised (sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of change), and attending thank you presentations was exhausting but incredible.
These events lasted for months. Even though Sandy occurred at the end of October, we felt like we were still in the throes of it in February. Then came the weeks when our entire department had to stop what we were doing to catch up on data processing and gift entry in order to distribute delayed tax acknowledgment letters and deliver overdue “thank yous.” In times of disaster, it is impossible to not fall behind and we are never able to personally thank as many people as we’d like, but we tried our hardest!
Working for the development department here in Southeastern Pennsylvania during the Red Cross’ response to Superstorm Sandy was an experience I’ll never forget. It was challenging but also very rewarding. I was proud to work for the Red Cross, an organization that did such a great job of not only preparing people for the storm but also responding to emergency needs and getting those affected on the road to recovery (as it continues to do). Also, I will always remember the outpouring of support from our region. It is indescribably inspiring to see such compassion in a world that often seems so dark and full of destruction. Never more than during Superstorm Sandy did generous Red Cross donors and volunteers bring hope.
Victoria Genuardi is a major gifts officer for Chester County and has worked for the Red Cross for about two and a half years.