The Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) has been very busy recently. A major spring storm system passed over the central and southern United States during the last week of April, leaving calls for help in its wake. The system produced multiple tornadoes and caused 35 fatalities in several states. By April 30, it had arrived in the Northeast, causing torrential rain and flash-flooding.
As the storm passed over states like Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, Red Cross volunteers in Philadelphia participated in a new Digital Volunteer program. Using social media, SEPA employees and volunteers Dave Schrader, Sara Smith, Pete Wine, Bob Schmidt, Janice Winston, Meara Lebovitz, Mindy Hart and Clifton Salas joined Red Cross workers in Dallas, Texas to help keep residents informed about dangerous weather events. They also answered questions about where to go to take shelter in the event of an emergency.
These committed volunteers are part of a Red Cross pilot program that provides support from Digital Volunteers at several Red Cross regions around the county. The program is exciting because it expands the ability of any one Red Cross regional office to provide potentially lifesaving information to local residents during a serious weather event or other crisis. SEPA’s Digital Volunteers worked for three days, April 28, 29 and 30, in four hour shifts to make sure that storm victims in another states had the information they needed to make it through a challenging time.
“We engaged scared people by telling them it was alright to be scared and guiding them on what to do next. All the while, we watched the destruction start to hit national news,” said SEPA employee Pete Wine. “It’s a very scary, hopeless feeling. You just want to do more.”
Once the storm arrived in the Northeast, the work of local Red Cross workers changed. Flooding in our area made it necessary to open eight Evacuation Centers in the Southeastern Pennsylvania region. In all, 95 people were sheltered and 110 meals were provided to people trying to stay warm and dry during two straight days of heavy rainfall. SEPA also provided 100 meals door-to-door to residents in hard-hit Downingtown, Chester County.
When the skies finally cleared, storm ravaged states like Arkansas and Mississippi called for help and SEPA employees and volunteers were ready to go. Sara Smith left Monday, April 28 for Arkansas and spent time in Mississippi as well to help tell the story of the Red Cross as a spokesperson. Volunteers Danelle Stoppel, Fred Vielhauer and Kay Rossi were all sent to went to Mississippi, Danelle to manage a team of Mental Health Services volunteers, Fred for Feeding and Kay became a client caseworker. SEPA employee Pete Wine deployed to the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, DC for work in Operations Information, thereby supporting the storm responses throughout a dozen states.
“Seeing the work of the Red Cross first-hand following a disaster like the tornado that ripped through Vilonia (Arkansas) is really amazing. Volunteers are there immediately to provide shelter, food, relief items and hope to communities left in ruins,” said Sara Smith. “But, it’s the resiliency of the residents that is humbling. Folks really come together and help each other in times like these more than I expected.”
SEPA employees and volunteers are proud of their roll helping residents from all over the U.S. prepare for, face and recover from disasters. Good and important work was done in the last week of April and it will be done again, next time