STORY: Hometown Heroes

January 30, 2013

Written by Tracy Duncan.

Island Park, New York Sandy Relief
Volunteer Norma Himpler prepares food for a resident of Island Park.

It’s not uncommon to see t-shirts and signs with “I heart NY” throughout town. What’s more true is that New Yorkers “heart NY” and are proving that by giving countless hours as Red Cross volunteers.

Bob Rathbone and Sue deBourg have been volunteers with the Mineola Chapter, part of the Greater New York Chapter, of the American Red Cross for years. When Sandy approached, they didn’t wait to see what needed to be done.

“We filled sand bags before the storm hit and then opened shelters as the storm approached,” said Bob Rathbone. “I think we’ve taken 10 days off throughout the disaster.”

Sue and Bob also helped close those shelters as residents were moved to hotels and other temporary housing. They didn’t end their service there, they just moved to another function.

Now Sue and Bob, joined by Norma Himpler, work an ERV route delivering meals to residents in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Norma, 84, is a retired nurse.

While Sue and Norma dish up the food in back, Bob takes to the loud speaker inviting everyone to come out and get a free meal provided by the American Red Cross. He then chats with residents to see how things are progressing in the clean up.

With big smiles and bigger hearts, it’s easy to see how much these three New Yorkers care for their neighbors. Maybe that’s why we all love New York.

STORY: “You guys rock!”

January 30, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Relief

On a frigid morning, a group of Red Cross volunteers mill about the parking lot of Aqueduct Race Track for just a short time before snapping into action under the direction of Red Cross volunteer, Nelson Valina, an active duty Colonel in the United States Marine Corps.

The food has arrived at Kitchen 2 and there is now much to be done. Like an efficient platoon of Marines, the volunteers take their place at the truck to quickly unload the day’s meals for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. They hurriedly take cambros of hot food and are then directed to the correct pallet by Col. Valina.

A makeshift cardboard chart shows where each pallet is located, making the unloading that much faster and more efficient. In a matter of minutes, the truck is unloaded, the pallets are filled with hot food and fresh fruit and the next phase of the mission begins.

During the brief down time when the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) drivers race off to get their vehicles, Col. Valina transforms from commanding officer to cheerleader. “You guys rock! You guys rock!” he shouts to the volunteers in the freezing temperatures. Everyone smiles, high-fives all around, the morale couldn’t be higher.

Time to switch gears again, there is still work to be done and the Colonel doesn’t easily forget that we’re here to do a job, we’re here to take care of people and fulfill the Red Cross mission. Now that the pallets are loaded, it’s time to load the ERVs heading out to the neighborhoods.

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PHOTOS: Sandy Relief in Island Park, New York

January 25, 2013

Island Park, New York Sandy Relief
Island Park, New York Sandy Relief
Island Park, New York Sandy Relief

See entire set on Flickr >>

Stars of Hope in Breezy Point

January 22, 2013


Written by Brian Scoles

BREEZY POINT, N.Y. – Love, Peace, Joy. The words echo a 1960s street demonstration. A drive around Breezy Point, N.Y., reveals scenes out of a battle-ravaged village in World War II Europe.

But this is 2013, and the location with the cheerful name is just a dozen miles from downtown New York City. The words “Love” “Peace” and “Joy” decorate hundreds of brightly painted Stars of HOPE scattered throughout an ocean-front area devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

American Red Cross volunteers see the stars every day as they deliver hot meals to hundreds of residents still without electricity and water – some without their homes – even now, nearly three months after screaming winds, monumental tidal surges and out-of-control fires ripped through this bungalow community.

“The color is such a bright contrast to the black and grey of charred homes and trees, and the ashen remains of what was once someone’s home,” said one Red Cross disaster worker. “They command your attention and deliver their messages of hope.”

As the Red Cross has shifted its Sandy response from immediate emergency needs to long-term recovery, volunteers know that encouragement and emotional support are vital for community restoration. Trained Red Cross disaster mental health workers continue to meet with storm victims, to assess their needs and, if necessary, refer them to local mental health services.

Meanwhile, Stars of HOPE is lending a hand to the recovery effort. The non-profit organization was founded in 2007 after a F5 tornado ravaged Greensburg, Kansas. Stars of HOPE works with schools and community leaders in a disaster-affected community to enlist children to paint inspirational words and messages on plywood stars and decorate them in bright colors.

The purpose of the stars is to bring color into a devastated area and to re-instill a sense of hope and community. Each town that receives stars then paints stars for the next town that experiences a disaster. Breezy Point received some of its stars from Minot, N.D. and local New York school children.

Day by day, storm-ravaged communities in Queens are seeing public services and commercial activity restored, allowing more people to resume normal lives.

However, an estimated 1,900 people are still living in hotels or other temporary housing; many others are struggling financially because their workplaces were crippled by the storm. The Red Cross and its partner organizations are delivering thousands of meals a day to meet feeding needs.

Meanwhile, Red Cross nurses and counselors are increasingly seeing survivors struggling with the emotional toll of months of storm impact; Red Cross Community Partner Services and Red Cross caseworkers are working hard at connecting people with financial and other resources they need to regain their independence.

So, while the Stars of HOPE shine throughout Breezy Point, the Red Cross patiently continues its disaster response, made possible by the financial donations and volunteer generosity of the American people.

STORY: Red Cross Partners with Local Church to Help Sandy Victims

January 18, 2013

Written by Joellen Barak


MANHATTAN, NY, January 18, 2013 – Sofia and her husband Stephan lost everything—even Stephan’s hearing aids—to Superstorm Sandy when their Brighton Beach apartment flooded. They were determined to rebuild their lives themselves—they found a new apartment on their own and moved in. But then Stephan lost his job because he couldn’t hear his supervisor’s instructions, and the couple realized that they needed help.

Felice Steele, a Red Cross nurse, immediately started making plans to replace Stephan’s hearing aids, but she didn’t speak Russian. That, combined with Sofia’s limited English and Stephan’s limited hearing, made communication difficult. Steele got the idea to contact a local Russian Orthodox Church to see if a priest would be able to help with translation. She reached Father Michael Suvak and Father Christopher Calin at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin of Protection, and they were able to put her in touch with Father Vladimir Alexeev at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, who provided vital translation services.

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STORY: Hotels are No Place to Raise a Family

January 14, 2013

Written by Winnie Romeril

New York, January 15, 2013 — At a glance, living in a hotel for months on end sounds quite luxurious. But for parents like Flora Mendez Salinas, the isolation and added burdens are tremendous. When Superstorm Sandy hit in October 2012, all at once Flora lost her belongings, her apartment and her job. Her story is typical for many of the families living in limbo in more than 3,000 New York City-area hotel rooms.

Sandy Relief“There are a lot of families still trying to survive in their homes,” said Red Cross casework supervisor Christina Hujanen. “A lot of them don’t want to leave for fear of things being taken. They’re just hoping that something will happen that will allow them to go back to how it was before the storm.”

Despite this valiant attempt to make it on their own, many storm survivor’s bank accounts are empty, their credit cards are maxed, and they simply can’t take living without running water, heat or electricity through the New York winter, as they have been since late October. Because of this, each day 20 to 30 additional people are requesting housing assistance from NY City authorities and are being placed in hotels.

However, the challenges are many. Firstly, few hotels allow cooking in the rooms, which means families like Flora’s must buy every meal — a costly endeavor in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Every couple of weeks, the Red Cross loads up debit cards with hundreds of dollars per family so they won’t go hungry.

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STORY: Call Center Volunteer Saves a Life

January 14, 2013

Written by Joellen Barak
NEW YORK, NY, January 12, 2013 – It was just a small plot of land. That’s what Hyacinth Charles thought back in 1963, when she was helping get the American Red Cross in the U.S. Virgin Islands started. The fledgling chapter just needed a small plot of land for their offices. Hyacinth persuaded a wealthy man to donate the land, and the chapter began to build. Little did she know that this was the beginning of her lifetime involvement with the Red Cross—and that she would end up literally saving the lives of an entire family 50 years later in New York City.

Hyacinth, of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been volunteering in New York as part of the Superstorm Sandy response. She works in the client casework call center, a place residents affected by Sandy and still facing challenges can call for information that will help them as they rebuild their lives.

Hyacinth knew that the woman she was talking to seemed distraught. “She was crying before she even started talking,” she says. She told Hyacinth she could only think of one way to solve her problems—she was going to kill her children and then herself. There happened to be a volunteer chaplain working as a fellow call taker near Hyacinth in the call center that day. Hyacinth immediately signaled for him to help with the call. Before the chaplain could respond, Hyacinth continued to listen as the woman sobbed out her story. It turns out that the caller had lost both her home and her job as a result of the storm. A single mom, she was at the end of her rope. She truly felt that ending their lives was the only way to help her family.

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STORY: Nurses Do More than Nursing

January 14, 2013

Written by Joellen Barak

Sandy Relief

NEW YORK, NY, January 10, 2013 – Since the time of Clara Barton, American Red Cross nurses have been iconic in images on the battlefield, helping the wounded, or vaccinating children in faraway places. But today’s Red Cross nurse, especially a disaster nurse, fills many more roles.

Over two months after Superstorm Sandy, teams of Red Cross nurses are still seeing and talking to survivors every day. Jeanne Spears is the chief disaster health services nurse for the Sandy response. Most of the people Spears and her teams see are now housed in hotels and other transitional housing. Spears says that the 2-4 home-visit appointments and 20-25 phone calls her team takes per day run the gamut of disaster victim needs.

“At this time, we’re not replacing lost medicines,” Spears says, “but we are reassessing needs that were presented earlier, including medicines and durable medical equipment.” For example, if a someone needed a walker after the storm, nurses check in to see if that need still exists, and to assess if there are other health needs that should be addressed.

Spears and her team work closely with Red Cross caseworkers and the casework call center. She commends the caseworkers, “They do a good job of identifying needs that we can help with.”

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VIDEO: Breezy Point, NY Sandy Relief

January 7, 2013

The Red Cross is still helping families in New York after Hurricane Sandy. Todd James explains how the Red Cross is working with partner organizations more than a month after Sandy to help families with long term recovery, in addition to continuing hot meal distribution each day.

STORY: Cal Berkeley student spends break as Red Cross volunteer

January 4, 2013

Written by Carl Manning

When Michelle Carney took her winter break as a student at the University of California-Berkeley, she knew she wanted to do more than hang out with friends and family.

Active in the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter in San Francisco for the past three years, Michelle knew she could help those affected by Hurricane Sandy that struck the East Coast.

For over two weeks Michelle has been among those working on a Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicle handing out hot food, drinks, and snacks in the hard-hit Rockaways on Long Island, NY. She said the hot meals have been especially appreciated in frigid temperatures by those unable to cook in their homes.

Since the storm struck in October, much has changed in the Rockaways. Tons of sand that once covered the streets has been removed and electrical power has been restored to much of the area. Yet, there is still a need to provide food and other basic necessities to people striving to recover from the disaster.

“We want to be out here helping and this is the most hands-on way to provide assistance,” she said.
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