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By Caroline Hroncich, American Red Cross Volunteer and Villanova student

As a senior in college, I have come to think of this time in my life as a stepping-stone between childhood and adulthood. You are given freedom, but are not yet required to be completely independent. We often don’t realize how much we rely on our universities to provide us with essentials. Personally, I did not realize how much I relied on my school until Superstorm Sandy hit.

Until Sandy, I had never thought about what I would do in the face of a disaster at college. I have distinct memories of my 19-year-old self, perched atop my bunk bed, listening to rain pound the window. The lights flickered frequently, threatening to die; all I had to eat was a bag of tortilla chips. I was completely unprepared. The school lost power, the dining hall could not be kept open, and my friends and I found ourselves confined to our dorm rooms while the storm raged around us. After talking to my friends who attend other universities, I realized this was not an uncommon experience.

While universities are equipped to deal with disasters, it is equally as important for students to prepare. During my junior year, a major snowstorm hit, leaving me (I was now living in an on-campus apartment) without power. Being without light meant there was a mad rush to purchase battery-powered lamps, leaving many students without alternative options to light their apartments. I lost most of my refrigerated food. The school urged everyone to go home, but since I did not live a convenient distance, that was not an option. A few of my friends considered going to a nearby hotel for the night.

rco_blog_img_CollegePrepAs a freshman, I laughed at my parents when they insisted I keep things like a flashlight in my dorm room. Now I realize how truly important those things are. Keeping items like a flashlight, extra batteries and a small portable lamp in your dorm are essential when it comes to emergency preparedness. Even food is important to keep in your room, just in case the dining halls are unable to serve you. My experience has definitely taught me that as we go about our busy college lives it’s important to stop for a second and think about if we are truly prepared.

– Cross-posted from the American Red Cross of Greater New York’s Blog

 

 

 

On October 29, 2013, I had the pleasure of participating in yet another amazing American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania event! Volunteers and staff came to CBS 3 studios to participate in a Thank-A-Thon phone bank. This event was held on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, with the purpose of showing appreciation to those who donated to Sandy relief efforts.

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I arrived at CBS 3 a little before 12:00p.m., and was able to start making phone calls after a little training and some practice. Many of the calls I made in the beginning of the Thank-A-Thon were voice messages, as many people were at work. Towards the end of the afternoon and into the evening, more people were beginning to answer. The people I was able to reach were happy to hear from the American Red Cross.  Donors were appreciative of the call and glad to be recognized for their generosity.  By the end of the evening, over 3,500 people were called and thanked for their donations and support! It was a lot of hard work and took many volunteers, but was worth it to be able to thank so many generous supporters. Please check out the Red Cross One Year Sandy Report, where you can see how the donations have been spent as well as the amazing response and recovery efforts made by the Red Cross.

You can also check out this video of us at work (You may see me in the background).

When you work for the Red Cross you learn very quickly to be ready for anything. That was my first lesson when I started here; it just happened to be the same day Superstorm Sandy struck our region.

Most folks when they start a new position have some idea of how their first day will go. I had no idea what to expect since this was not only my first day on the job but my first time dealing with a hurricane. Being from Texas I was well versed in what to do in a tornado but hurricanes were out of my league.

In spite of my apprehension, I knew that this storm was an “all-hands-on-deck” situation and I didn’t want to let anyone down my first day on the job. On the morning of October 29, 2012 I found myself driving very slowly and carefully to our offices in Philadelphia.

Once there I discovered that a lot of the staff had decided to stay at the chapter overnight. Preparations for Sandy had been made several days in advance throughout our region and I was astounded at the level of preparation and dedication everyone showed. Without hesitation my colleagues were ready to face whatever Sandy was going to throw at them and I was so inspired.

rco_blog_img_SEPACotsThroughout that day and the weeks and months after Sandy I continued to be amazed and honored to work with such incredible individuals. The workers of the American Red Cross are persistent and hard-working. Whatever the need they roll up their sleeves until the job is done. My first day on the job was the best orientation I could have had. I saw first-hand the importance of what we do. We represent the very best of what the American people are capable of when our sleeves are up, our hearts are open, and we’re all in.

Now, one year later, I’m still in awe of what we were able to accomplish that day and what we continue to do every day. Whether it’s Sandy or the 3-5 fires that happen almost nightly in this region the Red Cross is there and I’m glad I’m a part of it.

Michelle Wigianto is major gifts associate for the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania,
who began as a volunteer. Her first day as a paid employee was the day Sandy struck.

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.

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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. 

Mindy PinkusSubmitted by Disaster Volunteer, Mindy Pinkus

Super Storm Sandy arrived for me actually a few days prior to the storm. I was busy preparing my family for the brunt of the storm. I knew that I would not be home with my family during for the storm. I knew that I would be busy doing something for the Red Cross. I had know idea what that busy was, I just knew what that I would be busy, in fact very busy.

The phone rang and the caller ID announced that SEPA was calling.  So, I picked up the phone and Leo Pratte, Director of Emergency Services was on the other end. He proceeded to ask if I would accept the managers position for Disaster Assessment (DA) for the Chapter. He told me to be prepared to leave, and that I would be staying at HQ for the duration and aftermath of the storm.

Wow, was I excited and extremely nervous at the same to time. Leo told me be at Chapter Sunday morning before the storm hit on Monday. So, I ran around like crazy buying this and that. I needed to know that my family was  prepared for the storm so that I could feel good about leaving my loved ones at home without me. Ok SEPA… ready or not here I come. After all, I had prepared myself for this, taking class after class and having had the knowledge and practical experience from my many many National Deployments!

Sunday arrived and off to Chapter I go… When I got to Chapter I found out who the other Managers were and realized that I was the only Manager at HQ that was a volunteer. OMG, now I was officially was shaking in my boots. After a pep talk to myself I stepped up and started to develop a plan of action. I said to myself, “Wow, I think I can do this.” I then had the realization I can do this and that I will do this. I was off and running…

I recruited teams, developed my plan of action, and delegated responsibilities. I very quickly trained my DA teams and sent them out to hit the streets to find and record the damage. They worked diligently at the task and did a wonderful job! I was so proud of my teams. Without them the damage could not have been documented!!! Thank you, teams…

I worked very long hours, slept at chapter on a cot, spent many nights sleeping at the Red Cross House, typed reports and sent my DA Teams out to hit the streets of our five counties.

I was so thankful for Leo having the confidence in me and allowing me the privilege of leading a team of wonderful volunteers. They gave their time and left their families to volunteer with SEPA andserve their communities. This was an amazing experience for me and one that I will not forget. Thank you, Leo and thank you Red Cross for the opportunity to serve!

Wayne Sundmacher

Wayne Sundmacher with American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania CEO, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes on the day of his donation.

The following is an account of an auspicious meeting between Red Cross donor, Wayne Sundmacher, and Red Cross volunteers shopping for non-perishable food items at a BJ’s Club store in Hamilton, New Jersey. At the spur of the moment, Wayne stepped up to cover a substantial bill for Red Cross supplies to be distributed to residents affected by Superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey at the cash register.

He says:

After having spent four days without electricity or hot water, our lights came back on early Saturday morning.  That’s just an inconvenience, and nothing compared to our friends who lost their home.  My wife and I felt very lucky to have only lost some roof shingles, some food from our refrigerator and our electricity for four days. 

As a State employee, I had some involvement in emergency management and was painfully aware of the plight of those left homeless by the storm.  I was also aware of the great volunteer response by organizations like the Red Cross, and how they were endeavoring to meet the needs of thousands of people affected by the storm.

On Sunday morning November 4th, I was shopping at BJ’s Club in Hamilton, NJ, restocking perishable food items that we had lost during the power outage.  I was surprised to find the aisles crowded with American Red Cross volunteers, scurrying about, collecting case after case of non-perishable food items.  Their enthusiasm was inspiring, and I wanted to find some way to help, but also didn’t want to distract them from the important work they were doing.

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staff and volunteers shop for food and supplies at BJs in Hamilton, NJ on Nov. 4, 2012

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staff and volunteers shop for food and supplies at BJs in Hamilton, NJ on Nov. 4, 2012 on their way to Northern NJ and New York City

When I arrived at the check-out, I turned to find Red Cross volunteers with several flat-bed carts, waiting in line behind me.  My only thought was, “What can I do to help?”  Certainly, the volunteers weren’t set up top take a donation, so I did the next best thing.  I approached the young man behind me, with an offer to pay for the first $100 worth of food items they rang up. 

BJS photo 1While I thought my $100 offer would go a long way, the very first case of food the Red Cross was purchasing rang up at $214.    Sometimes, you just have to go with your heart, and not consider your wallet.  Rather than try to split up the purchase, I just told the cashier I would pay the full cost of that case of food.  I cannot tell you how good it made me feel, to know that food I had just purchased would be distributed to someone in desperate need, that very day.  And the cost?  Well, that’s a couple less dinners out, and a few weeks without doughnut shop coffee.  I think that’s pretty easy to bear.
– Wayne Sundmacher

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Here’s a link to a great post on Wayne’s Facebook page where he challenges friends to make a donation of their own to help the efforts of the American Red Cross in New Jersey.

We are incredibly touched by his generosity and second him in encouraging others to follow his example. Thanks Wayne!

By the way, over the course of the weekend of November 3-4, the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania sent 17 teams of volunteers to New York City and Jersey City to distribute food and  and water. In all, our teams distributed more than 48,000 food items and 20,000 bottles of water to residents in New York and Jersey City. (More photos here. Scroll to second half of set to see the store and distribution pictures.) This was just a small part of the large-scale response by the American Red Cross to Superstorm Sandy.

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American Red Cross Disaster Action Team Leader and Disaster Mental Health Specialist Danelle Stoppel is always on the short list of those to be sent to assist with national Red Cross responses. She’s referred to around our chapter as “Deployment Danelle.” She recently deployed to New York to assist with the Sandy response by providing essential mental health services to folks dealing with the aftermath of the superstorm.

Below is a compilation of messages and photos Danelle texted to our Director of Communications. It will be updated periodically until her return.

November 16

Arrived at Manhattan (Greater New York) Chapter Headquarters. It was wonderful to meet up with people I have worked with on other DRs (Disaster Responses). I have been assigned to the borough of Queens which includes several hard-hit areas. I will be meeting with my team tonight and tomorrow we have been assigned to the bulk distribution sites throughout our area. The atmosphere at Headquarters was upbeat, but for those who have been here for several weeks report they are exhausted and due to very low drives to and from work sites and desperate conditions in the hard hit areas.

June from Far Rockaway. she lost everything in her home to Sandy. All she really needs is a good pair of boots. Strong woman from Jamaica who made her home here 22 years ago. she loved to work with the elderly and is truly inspirational.

Bulk distribution teams are now going door to door delivering clean up kits in Far Rockaway. We are working in teams with nurses as 1475 start coming in.

Spontaneous volunteers with car loads of clothes, etc. helping anyone in need in Far Rockaway.

Door to door clean up kits are being delivered to Rockaway residents. I am now working with bulk distribution on a team with nurses and mental health specialists.

I can’t talk about individual people, but it is very sad. People look like they have been in a war zone. I love being on the ground with real people. I miss everyon.

SEPA Volunteers Anthony and Ben with our ERV which have been serving meals and distributing items to those affected by Sandy in NY.

Tomorrow, I return to the same distribution site. Due to the lack of housing options, we are staying in Manhattan, only 20 miles from the worst natural disaster to hit New York. Being downtown close to Times Square, it’s hard to imagine that such widespread disaster exists. the leadership in NYC has made it easier for the Red Cross to function. Our vehicles do not pay tolls and there is a facility where we can fill up our vehicles for no cost. Our hotel is parking our vehicles at no cost. The amount of people focused on this disaster is evident in all areas of the city. The respect for the American Red Cross is evident when you speak with people and so many people have gone out of their way to thank me.

November 17

Saw Clifton (SEPA COO) this morning. He looked well rested and was attempting to control the crowd of people trying to out-process (leave the job). 

I am working with a young man from Kentucky. He was emailed a newsletter from the American Association of marriage and family therapists asking for volunteers to work with the Red Cross. He applied and was quickly approved and arrived in New York City four days later. Talk about fast-tracked and bringing good people into the Red Cross…

November 18

Today, I partnered with an international agency called Heart to Heart and delivered mental health services to their clients. Many did not speak English and I interpreted for them. This part of Queens is home to many nationalities and cultures. Many families from Guatemala, Mexico and Puerto Rico sought medical advice due to lack of electricity which destroyed their daily supply of insulin. I heard a very comment that no one could believe this could happen in New York. Many people stayed in their homes until the water reached their porch. Perhaps the most distressing aspect is the impact of Sandy on senior citizens here and in New Jersey. Losing their homes and all their belongings has impacted them physically, economically and emotionally.

November 23

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, but not in Coney Island.  Some areas have no stores open.  The people depend heavily on the Red Cross for one meal a day.  There are many people of Russian descent who do not speak English.

November 25

Each day is a challenge and yesterday and today were more profoundly so. We were called to a high rise apartment in Brooklyn.  There, we met with a mother of a 47 year old gentleman who has been severely disabled since nine years old and is wheelchair bound.  He no longer has the use of his

legs and his left hand. Despite his physical limitations, he works as a lawyer in Manhattan.  He lives on the fourth floor, and when the storm hit he was unable to leave his bed due to the loss of electricity.  He was eventually hospitalized five days later due to hypothermia.  He has returned home, but cannot function due to the loss of his van, which was lost to salt water erosion.

November 26

Today’s challenge was thirty senior citizens who lived on Coney Island.  We evacuated them to a shelter in Brooklyn miles away

from their small neighborhood.  They are seniors who are living independently with staff who assist them to remain independent.  They are now living in a shelter in another building.  They have no hot meals since they normally cook for themselves. While they are being assisted by personnel they know, they are crowded together in a strange part of New York where they know no one.  We will be returning to assist them with the ongoing stress associated with the loss of their privacy and their community on Coney Island.

Stoppel with Lauren Watson and Noel Green

Stoppel with Lauren Watson and Noel Green

November 27

Hey, look who I ran into at 7:30…SEPA is in the house.

November 28

Noel and his team. Two days on this disaster response and Noel has again become the GO TO MAN.  Philly is making a difference…..lending our best to Manhattan.

Noel and his Team

Noel and his Team

Danelle and her team out to dinner

Danelle and her team out to dinner

November 29

Finally we are together to share a meal…

November 30

Bryan showed up at our outreach in site in Broad Channel.  Great seeing Bryan!

Bryan showed up at our outreach in site in Broad Channel. Great seeing Bryan!

For the past several days, I have been on an outreach team.  We are returning to places we know very well. This time we are armed with supplies, water, food, clothing, batteries, cleaning kits and winter coats.  Disaster victims needs are endless and after one month, they are tired, cold,frustrated and desperate. People living on the outer islands are now experiencing very cold weather. This team concept is an effort to find people whose needs have notbeen met.  Often, these people have lost everything.  Housing shortage appears to be the greatest need.  People from Coney Island are now living in hotels in Manhattan.  
Parents are driving their children back to Coney Island,  Rockaway and Far Rockaway daily to attend their neighborhood school, which is open.  Hotels cannot handle all of these people since the holiday season is coming.  

Danelle with client

Danelle with client

December 4
Today is the last day I will be on a team visiting families who lost a loved one in Hurricane Sandy. I have had a great deal of experience in the last year on these teams. I am always humbled to meet families and hear their stories. It requires one to hold back on emotions in order to get the job done.
When we give the family the donation from the Red Cross we say, “This is from the American people.” This is why I volunteer for the American Red Cross.
I will be back in Philly tomorrow and my Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross family will surround me and I will be grateful that I represented them here in New York.

More team members from Kansas, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia

Love and Peace to All
– Danelle Stoppel
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