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"It's an Honor to Help": L.A. Volunteers Respond to Hurricane Matthew

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"This was more important than anything I had on my calendar."

Oct. 13, 2016 - Hurricane Matthew has blown out to sea, but the storm is still causing severe flooding in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. To date, 24 Red Cross L.A. Region disaster workers from across the Southland are responding to the humanitarian response by helping provide shelter, food and relief supplies. 

Why do these volunteers sign up for this two-week, 14-hour day, no-frills disaster assignment? 

For Sandy Hanagami, who is currently on the final stretch of driving an L.A. Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) to Columbia, South Carolina, with fellow volunteer Angela De Rozario, it’s a powerful and rewarding experience. 

“It’s an honor to be able to help when someone is going through something so difficult. For me personally, it puts life in perspective. I love being on the front line with the clients, offering them such basic needs as food, shelter or comfort, or just talking to them.“ 

De Rozario agrees. “This was more important than anything I had on my calendar. I cleared my schedule to go because the situation looks bad and the people on the East Coast need our help.” 

Hanagami and De Rozario left the Red Cross West Los Angeles headquarters on October 10, along with another pair of volunteers, Henry Mills and Pedro Orellana, who are also driving an ERV to South Carolina. Although the ERVs are empty now, upon arrival, they will be packed with water, ready-to-eat meals, cots, blankets, kitchen items, cleaning supplies and comfort kits - containing insect repellant, gloves, masks, shovels, rakes, coolers and more - for distribution to people coping with the devastation. 

As of Oct. 13, more than 3,200 people in the four states were staying in 61 Red Cross and community shelters. Some 200 Red Cross vehicles were distributing supplies or are en route to the disaster scene, half of the entire Red Cross fleet of vehicles. 

Although many of those on assignment are seasoned disaster volunteers - with some having already helped at other national disasters this year, including wildfires and floods in Louisiana - some are first time disaster volunteers. The common denominator among the volunteers is their desire to help. ERV driver Pedro Orellana who has been a volunteer for 20 years says: “I just like to help people.” Fellow ERV driver Henry Mills adds: “I go where our need is, because Red Cross business is my business. I like helping our clients - in fact I love it.” 

L.A. Region CEO Jarrett Barrios reminds everyone that what happens next is the hard part. “The sun comes out and, for many people, life goes on. But for those whose homes were flooded or otherwise damaged, there’s no life to go back to—yet. The Red Cross will be there for these families as they prepare to take their next steps—continuing to shelter them if necessary, and for many, feeding them and providing clean up supplies, disaster assessments, mental health support and more. 

A big thank you to all of our 24 LA Region volunteers who are currently helping in a variety of ways in all four states hit by disasters. 

To see more of Sandy Hanagami and Angela De Rozario’s accounts of their trip to South Carolina, please visit Red Cross Los AngelesTwitter:  

For more information about volunteering, visit the RedCrossLA website.