On Friday, March 17, a fire broke out at a hotel in Whippany, New Jersey that served as long-term housing for 72 families. For safety reasons, the utilities were turned off to the building and an adjacent hotel, resulting in at least 250 people without a place to stay that night.
The American Red Cross, together with Hanover Township, opened a temporary Red Cross shelter that evening at the Hanover Township Community Center in Whippany.
Jose Ortiz and his two dogs Sugar and Cane do not have family or friends living nearby, and he hesitated to stay at the shelter because of his concern for the safety of his pets. “I knew there were a lot of bigger dogs at the shelter and my two Aussies would not do well with bigger dogs,” he explained. Upon stopping in the shelter, he saw how the pets were being accommodated and his comfort level changed.
The first night, 57 people stayed overnight at the shelter, with 11 dogs, five cats and a bird staying in a separate room in the building. The Morris County Animal Rescue Center partnered to help and provided crates, pet food, bowls, snacks and leashes to accommodate the furry shelter guests comfortably. But, it wasn’t only the pet accommodations that brought relief to Jose.
“My mom always said if I was ever in a disaster, the Red Cross would take care of me,” Jose shared.
Thirty years ago when Jose was just ten years old, Hurricane Andrew ravaged the areas in Florida where Jose lived with his mother and older brother.
He recalled how frightening the experience was. “The wind sounded like a freight train outside our windows, and then at some point, it was like two great big hands grabbed the trees and set them on their sides. Everything was so damaged that we could not stay there and ended up staying at a Red Cross shelter for a long time.”
Years later, Jose’s mother was living in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria devastated the island. “The Red Cross fed my mother and gave her water for a year,” he said. “So, when I called my mom about the fire, she told me I was in good hands.”
Jose was in awe by the Red Cross volunteers that came to help on Friday. “They set up the shelter so fast -- the cots, the food. The next day I was sitting with someone getting assistance from the Red Cross.”
Saturday morning, those living in the adjacent hotel were able to return home, but the 72 families from the initial fire would not be able to return to the hotel. The Red Cross provided bins for families to use to gather some belongings from their rooms to bring back to the shelter. Red Cross case workers met with 35 families on Saturday and Sunday to provide emergency financial assistance for things like food, clothing and other immediate needs. The families also met with Morris County Social Services Office of Temporary Assistance (OTA).
Red Cross volunteer nurses were also on hand to help care for those staying at the shelter. Whether people need prescription or medical devices replaced, wellness checks or help with other needs, volunteers with Health Services play an important role in bringing relief to disaster clients.
On Monday, families were placed in alternate housing provided by Morris County OTA and the Red Cross Shelter was no longer needed. Between Friday night and Monday evening, the Red Cross provided 116 overnight shelter stays and nearly 2,400 meals and snacks. Meals were served at the shelter, but also delivered by Red Cross volunteers in our Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) to the families living at the adjacent hotel on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The Red Cross distributed comfort kits and blankets to more than 40 families.
Volunteer case workers are now following up with clients and will continue to meet with affected families this week. They’ll be able to provide assistance, additional guidance, and referrals to other organizations which may be able to help with recovery as needed.
YOU CAN HELP You can help people affected by disasters like floods, fires and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 800-RED-CROSS ((800-733-2767), or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.