STORY: Island Park, NY

Sandy Relief

Story by Robert Wallace

A tear trickled down Josue Bello’s cheek as he hugged “hope” in the form of a huge stuffed dog, handed to him by an American Red Cross disaster volunteer.

Josue and his parents had been struggling in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which flooded the first floor of their home, ruined their furnace and destroyed their car. For more than two weeks after the historic storm, they had been making do, burning discarded furniture in a fire pit in the driveway to cook and grateful for the hot meals delivered to their neighborhood by the Red Cross.

Dagaberto Bello said the Red Cross was the first agency to reach his wife and son after the storm, bringing food, water, juice and snacks.

Sandy Relief
Dagaberto Bello shows the high-water mark on the side of his house. High water from Superstorm Sandy destroyed his car.

As time marched on into November and weather grew colder, they wrapped up in more blankets to keep out the chill. The cold seemed especially hard on Josue, his father noticed.

So when the Red Cross crew arrived with the stuffed animal – named Esperanza, which means “hope” in Spanish – it was a banner day for the little boy and his family.

Volunteer Nelson Vallina won toy in a “name the mascot” contest in the shelter where he and scores of other Red Cross disaster responders are staying while they help victims of Sandy. The name Esperanza came naturally to Vallina: He was born in Cuba, lives in Miami, Fla., and lost his home to Hurricane Andrew, so he knows how important hope is in the wake of a disaster.

Vallina is fluent in Spanish, which served him well in communicating with the Bello family who came to this country six years ago from El Salvador and speak limited English.

Red Cross volunteers Richard Umstead and Richard Sanford round out the crew with Vallina.

This is the first large disaster operation for Sanford, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., while Unstead has responded from Broken Arrow, Okla. to more than 10 major events. Unstead said disaster relief work gives him a sense of “being close to the pulse of life.”

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