Written by Michele Maki/American Red Cross Volunteer
Christmas came early this year. For one Middlesex County resident, it will be a holiday to remember above all others.
Kathleen Piscicelli of South River recounts the terrifying night when Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast. “I didn’t think the hurricane was going to be so bad; I thought it would be like Hurricane Irene; so I wasn’t too worried. I went to bed that night and then Sandy hit. My husband Fabio woke me up and told me the water was coming in our home and we had to get out. I couldn’t walk; so my husband carried me out and neighbors took us in. I was so scared.”
There was no electricity during the days that followed and the Piscicellis, their neighbors and their neighbors’ friends hunkered down by candlelight. “I didn’t know these people, but they took us in. We’re strangers but they still took us in,” Piscicelli exclaims.
Once power was restored, the hunt for more permanent shelter began. “We stayed in a motel for a while and then found another place. But since I lost my wheelchair in the storm, I couldn’t get out. My husband would have to carry me because I can’t walk. When the Red Cross came, I knew things were going to look up.”
Red Cross recovery caseworkers Angie Day and Triet Nguyen were interviewing Piscicelli and listening to her story about surviving the storm. “I took the time to listen to her story and her needs,” explained Day. “She’d been trapped in her room like a prisoner. We knew we needed to act on this quickly.”
Day and Nguyen lost no time. Within hours they had contacted Red Cross Health Services Manager Mary Steece, RN for help. “We knew that her need to become mobile was paramount to her recovery process,” Steece explained.
By the following day, members of the Red Cross disaster operation’s logistics team had located a wheelchair, donated anonymously, and within hours arrangements were being made to deliver it to Piscicelli. Caseworkers Ola Sudan and Bill Moncrief, RN picked up the wheelchair and were on their way for delivery when Sudan decided to take that extra step. “It’s Christmas time,” she explained. “And I thought it would be nice to bring something to help cheer her up and make it feel Christmassy.”
When the Piscicelli’s greeted the Red Cross workers, they had the surprise of a lifetime. To Kathleen’s astonishment, the workers were presenting her with a brand new wheelchair, a little decorated Christmas tree, a fruit basket, bath items and a much-needed shower chair.
“It hadn’t felt like Christmas,” Piscicelli tearfully recounts. “There was no tree. We were safe and we had a roof over our heads, but no tree. But now…oh my…I have a tree! I never expected…” There was hardly a dry eye in the room as Piscicelli expressed her appreciation, “Thank you so much. I know now that things are going to get better. It’s going to be ok now. Thank you Red Cross.”
Santa can be extra proud of his helpers this year. The coordinated efforts of the Red Cross casework volunteers, the health services team and the logistics workers helped carry out a Christmas miracle for one New Jersey woman in need.
See more photos at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87969009@N04/
About the American Red Cross North Jersey Region:
The American Red Cross North Jersey Region provides programs and services throughout the counties of Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren, with a combined population of 5.7 million. The region trains and mobilizes 4,500 volunteers who support the delivery of services in the community. Last year, the Red Cross North Jersey Region responded to 419 local disasters, helping 929 families displaced by home fires; educated more than 15,000 community members about disaster preparedness; collected more than 28,500 units of blood through blood drives and Red Cross Blood Donation Centers; helped 844 military families send emergency messages, receive financial assistance, and get counseling and referrals; assisted 870 military members and their families facing deployment on how to access our services anywhere in the world; and trained 143,344 individuals with lifesaving skills in CPR, AED use, first aid and aquatics. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission.