Some of the most visible activities of the Red Cross during a disaster involve giving people food, water and shelter. These are critically important, but they’re not the entire story.
After going through a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy—the likes of which most people had not seen before—survivors often need someone to listen to their story and provide a comforting word and presence.
The Red Cross has more than 5,000 disaster workers helping those affected by Sandy, some of whom are mental health volunteers. In the hardest hit areas of New York and New Jersey, these volunteers go from neighborhood to neighborhood to talk to people and help them cope.
Mental health volunteers are also able to refer people to Red Cross health services workers, who do wellness checks and make sure elderly residents are ok. These volunteers also make sure residents have access to any needed medications or equipment.
Even for those Red Cross workers whose official roles lie elsewhere—for example, in driving an emergency response vehicle and handing out hot meals—they too are always ready to provide personal encouragement and support.
Dick McGee, a retired clinical psychologist and Red Cross volunteer, was in Long Beach on Long Island, N.Y., to deliver meals. One of the people he met happened to be Jackie Blessinger, a student studying to be a clinical psychologist. She had put her studies on hold to help her father clean up after the storm.
Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge deposited five feet of ocean water in the living area of Phil Blessinger’s home. “Hurricane Irene last year was annoying,” he said, ”but nothing like this devastation.”
For Jackie Blessinger, McGee’s presence gave her a chance to vent about being away from her studies and talk about her future plans with someone who had decades of experience in her chosen field.
Before returning to the job at hand, Jackie insisted a friend take a picture of her and her dad with their new Red Cross friend. Jackie’s animated enthusiasm also brought a smile back to her father’s face as they resumed the task of cleaning out the house.
Just a brief encounter with a caring Red Cross volunteer helped them take a brief break from their labors and give them renewed confidence that a better day was, in fact, going to come.
How You Can Help
The response to Sandy is likely to be the largest Red Cross response in the U.S. in the past five years. To donate, visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.