Nov. 27, 2012 - Superstorm Sandy has brought devastation and destruction on the East Coast. However, the American Red Cross responded with just as much force, providing millions of victims with shelter, food, water, relief supplies and a shoulder to lean on.
Lauren Pucci, one of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers in the relief operation, did just that. During the week of Sandy’s landfall, Lauren, a South Hills resident, deployed to assist Red Cross efforts in West Virginia . Lauren had previously worked in Emergency Operations for Hurricane Katrina at the Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. , but this time she had the opportunity to participate in on-the-ground relief work as a deployed volunteer.
Lauren, along with four other Red Cross volunteers, was deployed to Preston County, West Virginia for 10 days, during which she helped with sheltering and disaster assessment. Upon arrival, Lauren and three other Red Cross volunteers were in charge of setting up a shelter at the Kingwood Civic Center for the Preston County community.
Lauren was responsible for the shelter’s kitchen operations. She oversaw the preparation and distribution of the more than 500 meals that the shelter provided each day in addition to ensuring that everyone in the kitchen had food licenses to prepare meals.
However, the Kingwood Civic Center served as more than a shelter for Preston County residents. This Red Cross shelter was a place for all those who had lost power to warm up, take hot showers and learn the most up-to-date information concerning loved ones and current weather conditions. The shelter also served as a makeshift food pantry that stored heater meals to be used by Red Cross volunteers and the National Guard rescue team.
When she wasn’t working in the shelter, Lauren was performing disaster assessment in Preston County. As part of the disaster assessment team, Lauren traveled to different “hot spots,” locations where disasters had been reported, to review the extent of the damage. She used these assessments to enter reports into an assistance database that could provide further help for those residents with damaged or destroyed homes.
Lauren recalls one resident that she met while out on a disaster assessment trip.
“We received a tip about a man who hadn’t been seen by his neighbors in several days. When we went to check on him, he was very hesitant and seemed reluctant to accept help. We invited him to come to the shelter for food and a warm bed, and—much to my surprise—he showed up later that day. From that day on, the man came to the shelter every day to help out. You could tell he had really found a community here, and it was touching to see what a huge impact this shelter had on his life.”
The residents of Preston County were not the only ones impacted by the Red Cross efforts. Lauren recognizes just how much her deployment has affected her own life.
“Witnessing the resilience of the West Virginia community was an inspiration to us all. All of the Preston County residents whom we encountered acted with such strength and humility and never wanted to accept recognition for their help and support for each other.”
Lauren’s positive experience in West Virginia has inspired her to sign up for another deployment in December to continue Sandy relief work in New York and New Jersey .
“I love this kind of work. At times, it can be really stressful, and sometimes I think, ‘What am I doing here?’, but seeing the effects that you and your fellow volunteers have makes all the stress totally worth it.”
Visit the Join Our Team page or call 1-800-RED-CROSS to find out how to become a Red Cross volunteer.