Written by Sue Kariker
When the American Red Cross arrived to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy just after it made landfall on October 29, New Jersey seemed the logical place to put its central distribution command – a centrally located warehouse of more than 126,000 square feet located on the waterfront, ready to meet the needs of disaster victims 24 hours a day.
Since opening its doors for the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief operation, the warehouse has moved over 4.4 million bulk items, including flashlights, diapers and blankets. Piled on large pallets are just about every imaginable item a family without access to basic necessities and amenities could possibly need, as well as 1.5 million meals and 2.2 million snacks. More than 30 days into the disaster that left hundreds of thousands in need, the Red Cross warehouse shows no signs of slowing down.
The warehouse couldn’t function at this type of speed and capacity without the help of some dedicated partners who have helped keep the operation running – beginning with the first nonstop days of the relief, through Thanksgiving and into the current recovery through the upcoming holidays. Cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), along with cadet volunteers and faculty from West Point Military Academy arrived on Thanksgiving Day to work through the weekend and over the next few weeks.
“This has been a great experience. Helping the Red Cross has been fun,” said Jonathon Mattingly, a junior cadet from VMI after hearing about the need for help from a friend, sent out a mass email request for volunteers and, along with 11 other cadets, reported for assignment on Thanksgiving Thursday.
“We have been staying on the SS Wright, docked at Staten Island. The Red Cross is taking good care of us,” Mattingly added.
West Point cadets, faculty and staff gave up their holiday break too, coming down from upstate New York to as far as Colorado Springs, where many West Point graduates are stationed, to help out. From Northern Command, Major Travis Trammell and 15 West Point volunteers pitched in to organize and inventory the warehouse.
“I’m in awe of the whole operation and scale of this effort. There has been seamless partnerships with the other groups – everyone pitches in to get the job done,” Trammell said. “The Red Cross personnel also managed tremendous facilitation.”
A challenge for the warehousing operation was the massive amount of donated clothing from many corporations. They have categorized, inventoried and processed more than $3.1 million worth of donated apparel since the warehouse opened with the Red Cross in response to Hurricane Sandy in addition to the expected goods that are always needed such as food, snacks, water, cleaning, and paper products.
The Red Cross staff and volunteers who manage the warehouse and the three military volunteer teams organized and inventoried tens of thousands of bulk supplies to be loaded on to semi trucks for delivery to the Red Cross bulk delivery sites. Another partner agency, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) –a volunteer organization that works for the betterment of the foreign national community – sent 54 volunteers who added some manpower and a pop of color to the effort, their blue shirts and MIRA logo offsetting the Red Cross red.
Donna Zielmann, Logistics Chief at American Red Cross Disaster Headquarters, visited the warehouse on Saturday to recognize the Red Cross workers and the partner volunteer organizations to give a personal thank you. Susan Mize Cain, a Disaster Services volunteer at the warehouse, echoed her gratitude and pointed out some additional feats.
“With the help of the cadets from VMI and cadets and faculty members from West Point, in a matter of 48 hours we have been able to ship eight tractor trailer loads and at least ten box trucks full of clothing, diapers and other miscellaneous items to communities in New York affected by this disaster,” she said. “This is an amazing team doing amazing work.”