Superstorm Sandy’s winds and waves wrecked destruction on communities throughout New York and New Jersey, but the storm also caused hundreds and thousands of volunteers to step forward and help their neighbors in need.
Ordinary people worked together as volunteers, and together, provided extraordinary assistance, proving once again that sometimes the worst disasters bring out the best in our communities.
Many people came to the Red Cross to help after Sandy, and they have continued to work with the Red Cross as volunteers in a range of other ways in the months that have followed. Here are two of their stories.
Gary Brandel, New Hyde Park, New York
Gary Brandel, 23, of New Hyde Park, N.Y. (Nassau County), and his family experienced only a temporary loss of power from Sandy, but he saw widespread devastation in other parts of Greater New York. When he saw a tweet by the Greater New York Red Cross asking for volunteers, he immediately signed up online.
After a quick background check, on Oct. 31, just two days after the storm, Gary drove to Manhattan (it took five hours) to take volunteer training classes. By midnight that night, he was back on Long Island at the Red Cross temporary shelter at a middle school in Deer Park, N.Y. For the next seven days, Gary worked as the dormitory manager, making sure shelter residents were comfortable, and that cots were clean and ready for use, and talked with the residents during the day and tried to keep them upbeat.
After his shelter work was completed, Gary spent more than a month as a volunteer working out of the Red Cross on Long Island chapter’s Mineola headquarters as the logistics transportation service associate. He has taken on bigger responsibilities in the months that followed, and is the regional lead for transportation during national disaster responses.
This is challenging and time-intensive commitment, one he finds rewarding.
“My job during a huge response like Sandy is to make sure we have enough vehicles—rental cars and trucks,” he said. “I also help train other volunteers to do the job. I am absolutely loving it.”
Since spring, Gary, who is studying to become an EMT at St. John’s University in Queens, has been volunteering as a Red Cross disaster responder. He goes to the scene of local fires and other emergencies and helps those affected—something he also loves.
“The Red Cross is a great organization to volunteer with if you like making a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “Even just asking someone how they’re doing, it makes a surprisingly big difference.
At the end of October, almost a year to the day after Sandy hit and he began volunteering, Gary was hired by the New York Red Cross as a full-time disaster responder.
Kimberly Mishkin, the Bronx, New York
When the Red Cross issued a call for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Kimberly Mishkin of the Bronx didn’t realize this would lead to her discovery of one of the most rewarding pursuits in life: volunteering.
Kimberly found out about the opportunity through her business partner, Liza Caldwell, who reached out on Facebook to see if her friends were available to help answer phones at the Greater New York Red Cross in Manhattan during this hectic time.
Liza and Kimberly worked tirelessly to answer the phones, which had a constant stream of callers seeking help. “I definitely felt like I was needed there,” Kimberly explained.
Kimberly and Liza felt so inspired by the volunteer spirit, they decided to close down their Manhattan-based business that supports women in the divorce or separation process for the next two weeks to dedicate their free time to volunteering at the call center.
“I got hooked, honestly,” Kimberly said. “I felt like the work I was doing was so useful; I loved the people I met. Everyone was genuinely glad to see me, and thanked me often for helping out.”
After their Sandy experience, Liza and Kimberly decided to dedicate at least one or more days a month to working with the Red Cross; they close the office those days to volunteer together. The pair is now training to become disaster responders. When trained, they will travel to the sites of local fires and other emergencies to provide assistance to those affected.
“I love my work at the Red Cross,” Kimberly said. “It's rewarding to work in a place where you are appreciated.” She also sees it as a kind of education in volunteerism, and appreciates getting to see parts of New York she would never see otherwise.
Making a difference as a volunteer
More than 90 percent of Red Cross workers are volunteers, and Gary Brandel urges others to volunteer. “Even if you can give one day a month to come in and do something, it makes a difference in people’s lives.”
To learn more about volunteering at the Red Cross, visit: http://www.redcross.org/support/volunteer
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org/gny or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossNY.