Nelson Vallina of Miami is on his third deployment as an American Red Cross volunteer for Superstorm Sandy. His partner of the past seven weeks, Barbara Davis, from Huntsville, Alabama, has just completed her second Sandy deployment.
Vallina and Davis are just two of approximately 120 Red Cross volunteers from around the United States who are helping Greater New York residents rebuild their lives after Sandy.
“The Red Cross is a noble organization, and it’s my vehicle to help people,” said Vallina, a Marine colonel, who is set to retire from active duty in July. (In the meantime, he conducts his Marine Corps work from his hotel room, after his Sandy shift has ended.)
“It’s been my joy to help people, and the Red Cross allows me that opportunity,” said Davis, who is associate minister of a Baptist Church in Huntsville, and retired director of academic enhancement for athletes at the University of Alabama.
Vallina began volunteering with the Red Cross at a shelter in Miami during Hurricane Isaac in August 2012. He helped with security and did “whatever I was asked to do.”
Davis signed on to volunteer with the North Alabama Red Cross chapter after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005.
She said, “Katrina was so devastating; I felt so hopeless and helpless for the people. I vowed never to be in a position not to be able to assist.”
And assist they have in Greater New York.
Vallina travelled to New York City the beginning November, right after Sandy struck. For a month, he drove an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV), delivering food in the hardest-hit areas. He then signed on for a second deployment as an ERV driver, from mid-December through February.
“I loved that work,” Vallina said. “I’ve served meals all over town—in the Rockaways, in Island Park (Long Island), in Howard Beach. People were very grateful; they had no water or food.”
Davis also volunteered for four weeks in November, in New Jersey, going door-to-door in affected neighborhoods to assess needs and hand out clean-up supplies. She found this to be such a gratifying experience that she came to New York in March for a seven week shift.
She and Vallina have worked together, driving through NYC to distribute debit cards loaded with funds for food assistance to Sandy affected residents still living in hotels.
“It’s my joy to help people, and the Red Cross allows me that opportunity,” Davis said. She added that it’s important for New Yorkers to realize that many residents are still homeless: “We’re still handing out food cards six months after the storm. People forget that others are still struggling and will be for a while.”
Nelson expects to be handing out food cards until his deployment ends in May. “I’ll remain as long as I’m needed,” he said. “That has been my commitment.”
Davis said that her Sandy experience has inspired her to create a program in Alabama to help displaced women and children find employment and housing. Just as important, she plans to urge her church members to volunteer for the Red Cross.
“I would suggest anyone to get involved in the Red Cross,” she said. “It is a humbling experience to be able to go out and meet the needs of the people.”