Story by Alex Villa, Red Cross Public Affairs
Pictured above: Lieutenant Woods, US. Navy presents Red Cross volunteer, Renee Callahan with a U.S. Navy Challenge coin in Lavallette Beach.
The American Red Cross is an organization made up of over one million volunteers. Individuals who dedicate their time and efforts to aid us in our mission and alleviate human suffering. The amount of support received by Red Cross has been phenomenal since Superstorm Sandy struck the east coast on October 29th, 2012. Volunteers from all fifty states, including Canada, Mexico and Saipan came to assist in relief efforts, and for some who came to volunteer, the effects of Sandy hit very close to home.
Lieutenant John Woods with the United States Navy grew up spending his summers on the sandy beaches of Lavallette, New Jersey, and was devastated when he saw photos and reports of the damage caused by the powerful storm. Lieutenant Woods, now stationed in Annapolis, Maryland wanted to assist the American Red Cross in their relief efforts and saw the perfect opportunity to engage his students in the Naval Academy over the Thanksgiving holiday. Woods recruited twenty-four members of the Midshipman Action Group and together drove to New Jersey on Thanksgiving Day to spend four days providing relief to the countless individuals now returning to their homes.
Upon arrival, Lieutenant Woods met with Renee Callahan, Distribution Warehouse Manager and Red Cross volunteer from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Callahan, who is no stranger to a disaster operation, has deployed to eleven national disasters in just under eighteen months was thrilled to have the help of 25 eager Midshipmen. On Friday morning at 8:00AM, the Midshipmen were able to start loading Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV’s) and by the afternoon were in the Ortley Beach area delivering supplies such as trash bags, cleaning products, gloves, shovels and face masks to residents re-entering their homes. On Saturday morning, Woods and his team arrived at the warehouse in Franklin, New Jersey at 6:00am and in just a few hours loaded a total of 15 ERV’s and five 26-foot Ryder moving trucks with supplies. By 10:00am, the group had established multiple distribution sites in the Lavallette area and coordinated teams to go door-to-door within the neighborhoods to deliver supplies and water. Residents in the area were delighted to see the men who serve our country day in and day out stopping by to deliver these supplies and even more grateful when they came back in the afternoon to provide a warm meal.
Renee stated that, “this would have been an impossible feat if not for the help of Lieutenant Woods and the Midshipmen who were able to offer their time, strength and expertise in logistics in this operation.” Lieutenant Woods was equally as appreciative of Renee and her Red Cross volunteers for their efforts in providing relief to the neighborhood in which he used to call home. Woods presented Renee with a United States Navy challenge coin, a coin that is traditionally given to one to prove membership when challenged. Woods said that “He and his team are just a part of the American Red Cross as Renee and her team are a part of his.” Through this beneficial partnership and the strategic planning between Red Cross mass care and feeding, the USNA Midshipmen and Red Cross volunteers delivered 500 meals to Lavallette residents and provided over 70,000 cleaning supplies to individuals in Ocean County.