After 2,100 local fires, floods, building vacates, and other moments of tragedy, Greater NY Red Cross volunteers were there for neighbors coping with loss. They offered food, shelter, financial assistance, relief supplies, health assistance or simply a comforting presence to nearly 13,000 people suffering from tragedy.
Carlos Blanco, a retired military veteran living alone whose Bronx apartment was destroyed by fire that also took from him his three beloved pets last September, was among those New Yorkers from this region who turned to the Red Cross in 2019.
“People don’t even know how important an organization like the Red Cross can be,” said Blanco, “and what it represents during people’s worst time. Basically, it’s hope. They don’t care who you are. They just know you need help.”
Other recipients of Red Cross services, Cassandra Philip and her 20-year-old son, Jaquan, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, expressed their deep gratitude in 2019 for the priceless and ongoing support to rebuild their lives after a devastating fire.
“When I got back from the hospital to meet with the fire marshal, a young man and a lady [from the Red Cross] showed up,” said Cassandra. “He even gave me a hug which felt like a million, bazillion dollars to me at that point in time. It comforted me, it allowed me to just take it one step at a time, it told me someone cared. I know I have my son, but this is a complete stranger.”
When large disasters struck outside our region, local Red Cross staff were there as well. Throughout 2019, 73 Greater NY Red Cross staff members put their lives on hold to travel far from home, sometimes for up to three weeks, to help after wildfires in California; flooding in central Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska; tornadoes in east Alabama; a tropical storm in Texas and a hurricane in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.
At times, local staff traveled even farther to help. Bronx resident Raul Rivera Nunez, Regional Director of Planning, Readiness and Situational Awareness, and Queens resident Andy Li, from the organization's IT team, both deployed to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian devastated the country. Elsewhere, Tiara Youmans, Regional Director of Client Services and Recovery (a Manhattan resident), brought her expertise to Northern Greece to support the International Red Cross response to the refugee crisis there. All three are part of a small roster of highly-specialized and experienced American Red Cross disaster professionals - International Delegates as they are called - who deploy and provide aid during global crises.
Also in 2019, the American Red Cross in Greater NY helped make communities safer and more resilient by installing thousands of free smoke alarms in area homes; by teaching health and safety skills like CPR, water safety and first aid; and by empowering local families with vital disaster preparedness skills. Along with these services the organization also collected lifesaving blood and offered support to service members and their families.
“It just touches people and most people know someone or have been personally touched by the Red Cross in some way,” said Marilyn Vallejo, a Long Island resident and longtime volunteer with the Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces program. “It’s an organization, but inside of that organization is such a human heart.”