Local Volunteers Recount Hurricane Sandy Relief Experiences

Danielle Mareschal and caseworkers
The Hurricane Sandy relief operation was and continues to be a magnificent effort of Americans helping Americans in need. It was a privilege to help. - Amy Gross, Red Cross Disaster Mental Health Volunteer

Photo: Pasadena resident Danielle Mareschal (second from right) works with other Red Cross volunteers in New York to assist people displaced by Hurricane Sandy.

Nearly 150 Red Cross L.A. Region volunteers have assisted Hurricane Sandy survivors in New York and New Jersey since the superstorm hit in late October, including one worker who deployed just before Christmas.

Although the volunteers worked long days for more than two weeks each, the majority felt honored and grateful for the opportunity to help their neighbors on the East Coast. Here are accounts from three of the Region's volunteers:

Malibu resident Pamela Hathaway (a volunteer for one year) -- “I left for New Jersey on Oct 27, which was pre-landfall and stayed 16 days. I took a red-eye flight on a Saturday, and by Sunday morning, I was in a parking lot helping unload trucks to set up the New Jersey headquarters. I deployed as a feeding associate, but ended up working at the New Jersey headquarters assisting the feeding manager (making spreadsheets and keeping track of 105 Emergency Response Vehicles), processing feeding requests, and helping to open and staff six mobile kitchens. Monday the hurricane hit. By the time it was safe to come out on Wednesday, the Red Cross already had a semi-truck loaded with 28,000 box lunches ready to be distributed. It was an extraordinary response and I am so grateful that I could be a part of it."

Pasadena resident Danielle Mareschal (a volunteer since 2010) -- “I spent two weeks in New York, primarily as an outreach caseworker, and I returned home just before Christmas. Our team went door-to-door on Staten Island and then all through Long Island offering assistance. We had two Emergency Response Vehicles (ERVs) with us at all times: one carrying supplies (gloves, shovels, flashlights, pry-bars, bleach, clean-up kits, etc.) and another, which contained water, snacks and heater meals. We asked residents if they needed something. Then, we would make a needs list, call the ERV, and deliver the items to their door. The ERVs were open to anyone on the street expressing need - they were like disaster relief mobile hubs, and we were a welcome sight everywhere we went.

The damage I saw was widespread and devastating. I’ll never forget driving past a home in Breezy Pointe, which was sitting in the middle of a street that had a pre-disaster address one street over. I will always remember the brave people of New York, as well as the disaster relief volunteers from all over the nation and Canada who assisted. I felt honored to deploy and realized that a hug goes a very long way.”

Tarzana resident Amy Gross (a volunteer for seven years) -- “I went to help Hurricane Sandy survivors as a trained Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteer. I also went for me. I was raised in New Jersey, so it was very personal. My job was to assist with the mental health needs for the Red Cross volunteers who were deployed to the disaster. This involved talking with volunteers at client shelters, bulk distribution sites, the operation headquarters and other sites. I encouraged workers to eat, take breaks, sleep and take a day off when needed. It’s important for our workers to do these things because disasters can be overwhelming for everyone, including those who provide assistance. I learned first-hand that watching the devastation on TV is nothing like standing in front of it. On Staten Island, I looked at a vacant lot with a roof sitting in the middle of it. Then I slowly realized the lot wasn’t vacant, and the roof was sitting on about three feet of rubble. Then I realized the rubble was the remains of someone’s house, of their life prior to the storm, and I started to cry.

The storm is off the front page of the news but not off the Red Cross front page. I want donors to know that every dollar they donated for Hurricane Sandy was well spent. The relief operation was and continues to be a magnificent effort of Americans helping Americans in need. It was a privilege to be there.”

As the Hurricane Sandy operation transitions from immediate relief to recovery, trained Red Cross workers continue to connect people to recovery resources and work with community groups to identify available support. Any funds donated for Hurricane Sandy beyond what is needed for emergency relief will be put to use serving the long-term needs of communities and individuals affected by this disaster.