The American Red Cross opened shelters in multiple states across the Mid-Atlantic as Hurricane Sandy loomed, offering shelter to those who were trying to escape the wrath of the storm.
Sunday night, more than 3,200 people stayed in 112 Red Cross shelters in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware, and more shelters are being opened.
FIND SHELTER If you need to find a shelter, download the Red Cross Hurricane app, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or check your local television, radio and newspaper. You should bring the following:
One of the Red Cross shelters that opened Sunday was in Pleasantville, N.J., and by mid-day it was filling with a steady stream of people who were seeking safety from the approaching Hurricane Sandy.
Most of those arriving – from babes in arms to senior citizens –- were coming from Atlantic City and nearby towns on the barrier islands along the Atlantic coast, but at least one was a vacationer from San Diego.
Shelter manager Duncan Wiedman and his team – most of them volunteers from the Southern Shore and Jersey Coast Red Cross chapters – were preparing for 150 people in the high school and another 150 in the middle school next door.
SHELTER RESIDENTS GRATEFUL One of the first to sign in was 62-year-old Gordon Schwartz, who was impressed with the efficiency of the shelter operation. “It’s amazing, how smoothly it’s going,” he said. Schwartz, who doesn’t drive, was brought to the shelter by the fire department from his home town of Margate. “This is when you appreciate living in this country and organizations like the Red Cross,” he said. “I’m going to stay here until it’s safe to go home.”
Mary Hakes and her husband, Ricky Bunch, left their home in Absecon first thing Sunday. “It was flooding around our house at eight this morning,” she said. “We don’t have anywhere else to go. We don’t have any family around here. You’re the best!”
“I sure appreciate what you’re doing,” said Daniel Medina of Absecon. “I’ve been through half a dozen hurricanes and I never had to seek assistance before, but this one has me concerned.” Medina asked a Red Cross volunteer how he could contact his sister. “She lives out of state and I know she’ll be worried about me,” he said. Told that the shelter workers can register him on the Red Cross Safe and Well website, which allows family and friends to log in from around the country and learn that their loved ones are OK, Medina said, “Gee, I didn’t know you could do that!”
One the oldest of the first wave of evacuees in the New Jersey shelter was 80-year-old Miss Katrina Ilincic, who left her native Yugoslavia as a teenager and now lives alone in a mobile home in Pleasantville. “My grandchildren are in Las Vegas...It’s just me and my god,” she said with tears in her eyes. During Hurricane Irene last year, she remembers opening the door and being terrified at the ferocity of the storm, so this year she didn’t hesitate to reach out for help.
“The police department sent somebody to pick me up. I wasn’t ready when he arrived and he said he would go and get somebody else, but I begged him, don’t leave me. I grabbed just a few things, and came right away,” Ilincic said. While waiting to register, she began talking to the couple next to her, Konnie and Tracy Jones, who took the elderly woman under their wing. Pushing Miss Katrina’s wheel chair, Jones explained, “I have a mother and a grandmother, and I would hope somebody would do the same for them.”
HELPED MORE THAN ONCE For some of the shelter residents, this first encounter with the Red Cross is an eye-opener. But for others, the Red Cross has already been there for them in times of need. Sitting on the cots they had claimed as their refuge in the storm, Barry and Lisa Mans of Pleasantville recalled how the Red Cross helped them just two years ago.
“We had a fire in our house in August of 2010. We lost everything. You folks were there for us,” Mans said. “You never saw anyone with so much compassion as the Red Cross recovery counselor. She was small of stature but huge in love.”
David Simon of Ventnor has an even older fond memory of Red Cross help. “You people took care of me back in, what was it, 1955? I was stationed in Anchorage in the military,” he recalled. “My wife was due to have a baby and I went to the Red Cross to borrow money. That was a god-send.” Last year, Simon had to evacuate during the worst of the flooding that followed Hurricane Irene, so this time, he heeded the authorities’ advice and took action before the storm hit.
VOLUNTEERS LEND A HAND The spirit of neighbor helping neighbor was alive and well throughout the shelter. Red Cross nurse volunteer Lucy Perna of Atlantic City took careful notes of any medical conditions that the residents reported, including pre-existing conditions and prescriptions they brought with them, or for which they might need refills. Lucy and her husband, Angelo, have been Red Cross volunteers since 2004. “We were taking a little sabbatical, but we came back [to volunteer] for this,” she said.
Meanwhile, volunteer Sonya Carlson was busy registering residents just a few hours after arriving from Fargo, N.D. Although this is her first deployment to a major disaster relief operation, she’s a veteran of several relief operations in her home state. “That’s when people came to help us,” she said with a smile.
HOW TO HELP People can help by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief online, by text or by phone. Donations help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
To donate, people can visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be sent to someone’s local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.