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A Red Cross Romance

Red Cross volunteer couple looking at a map
Working on a disaster assignment is always rewarding and challenging… and sometimes, you can add a little romance.

Red Cross has been good for us,” said Steadman Meares laughing.

Meares is one-half of the Red Cross duo of Liz and Steadman Meares, who met at a disaster almost two years ago, dated throughout disasters across the country and are now serving together in the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy relief effort.

“We had plenty of time to get to know each other,” Steadman said.

The couple, which came to New York from North Carolina, was married March 26.

Since Hurricane Sandy hit the New York Tri-State area a month ago, more than 15,300 Red Cross workers –90 percent of whom are volunteers who have come from around the country—have helped the city get back on its feet. Among other duties, Red Cross volunteers like the Meareses have helped serve 8.2 million meals and snacks, oversee 80,000 shelter stays and make more than 94,000 health and mental health contacts..

Steadman, a retired county public safety director, works at the Greater New York Red Cross headquarters in its Staff Relations operation. For Staff Relations, Steadman assists in making sure the Red Cross meets the needs of its staffers – and even spontaneous volunteers – helping in a disaster, by taking care of such things as travel, housing, physical and mental health, job placement, performance counseling and security.

“When I retired from public safety, some of the people in my Red Cross chapter said Staff Relations would be a natural fit for me,” Steadman said in a southern lilt. “I’ve been doin’ it for seven years.”

Steadman started his Red Cross deployments steadily, but when Liz Meares retired from nursing, “Katrina just happened,” she said. “I wanted to help so I started taking classes to be a disaster volunteer.”

Liz works in Disaster Health Services, which is tasked with responding to people's immediate emergency disaster-caused needs, including shelter, food, clothing, and if necessary, health and mental health services. Her department also feeds emergency workers, handles inquires from concerned family members outside the disaster area and helps disaster victims access other available resources.

For her Sandy deployment, Liz has been under the umbrella of Staff Wellness, which gives her responsibility for the health care of other Red Cross disaster volunteers who are under stress, eating and sleeping irregularly, and working long hours – sometimes sleeping in staff shelters outside or in other unorthodox situations.

“Lately, with all the colds going around,” Liz said, “I have been very busy.”

Though they spent a lot of time on disasters before they married, the Meareses have responded to different emergencies at different times since their wedding, keeping them more apart than the average newlyweds. For two months this summer, Steadman went to Florida for the beginning of this Hurricane Season, which was the third most active in recorded history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). He had barely returned when Liz went for Tropical Storm Isaac.

Hurricane Sandy brought them to New York and back together again.

“Working on a disaster assignment is always rewarding and challenging … and sometimes, you can add a little romance,” Steadman said.

Photo: Steadman Meares points out to his wife, Liz Meares, one of the New York areas in which he is helping Red Cross volunteers meet their own needs during the Hurricane Sandy operation. Adrian Brune/American Red Cross.