Story by Christopher Sommer
The response to the devastating Oklahoma tornadoes on May 19 and May 20, 2013 brought in American Red Cross volunteers from across the nation.
After seeing the outpouring of support following the tragic events of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Sandy, 14 Red Cross volunteers from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), are now working with the relief efforts here in Oklahoma as a way of giving back.
“What the World needs more is giving back to people, getting back to the grass roots, helping your neighbor out and make this world a better place,” said Chris Edwards, Red Cross volunteer and FDNY DART member. “With the help of the Red Cross giving us the opportunity to be able to come down here with the knowledge we have…it’s a team made in heaven.”
Edwards and a group of fellow FDNY have been helping in the communities by loading trucks and emergency response vehicles as well as going through neighborhoods helping directly with assisting Oklahomans. Even more, they represent a symbol of hope to those they encounter, commenting on disaster victims seeing their team and knowing help is there.
This is not the first deployment this New York City DART has mobilized to help others along with the Red Cross. Edwards and the DART members have responded to numerous disasters around the country, such as Hurricane Katrina.
“When people need us, we’re here,” said Ronaldo Robledo, retired FDNY.
“With [the support of the Red Cross] and our moxie, people get the help,” explained Michael Mondello, retired FDNY and DART member.
When speaking about the impact of volunteers and the support that poured into New York after their disasters, Edwards remarked on his drive to help others, “…whatever it was they did for us, it was the idea that they went out of their way to help us out…it’s a thirst to help people that will never be quenched.”
Thanks to volunteers like Edwards, Robledo, Mondello and Irving DeShields, the Red Cross is able to carry out its mission of proving humanitarian service to those affected by disasters.
By Michael de Vulpillieres, Communications Officer, American Red Cross Greater New York Region
“Water came in from both sides,” said Connie Hulla, pointing to the walls of her Coney Island church exactly 100 days after Sandy made landfall.
She had seen major storms here before, just never anything like this.
“Sandy nearly flooded the entire peninsula,” she said.
Hulla is pastor at the Coney Island Gospel Assembly, a church on the peninsula’s North side, a densely populated area comprised of housing projects and row houses.
“This community was struggling before the storm,” said Hulla. “Now it’s devastated.”
Like most of the buildings around it, Connie’s church was badly damaged. She considers herself lucky. “The whole structure could have come down,” she said.
The church’s basement, which housed the boiler and the electrical system, was destroyed. Thirteen feet of water flowed through an area that, days earlier, served as a homeless shelter.
But despite the damage, the church almost immediately became a relief hub in Coney Island; a safe place for the community to find donated clothing, food, relief supplies, and hope.
“We’ve just done what we’ve always done,” Hulla recalled. “Giving and serving.”
That was the basis on which her father founded the church 55 years ago.
“My family started the church to meet a lot of the needs caused by the serious levels of poverty here,” said Hulla.
Over the years, Hulla’s church has become an institution in Coney Island. So after Sandy, it was logical for residents to come here seeking help.
Within hours of Sandy’s landfall, donated food, water, clothing, clean-up supplies, diapers, and other items poured in, and thousands of locals lined up every day and night seeking assistance.
Hulla has been addressing needs for Sandy relief around the clock. Early on, she and her team of volunteers worked 18 to 20 hour days. She said that even today, it’s still a 24/7 job. (A job in which no one actually gets paid.)
Throughout her response to the storm, Hulla has received assistance from the American Red Cross.
“Everything the Red Cross does here makes a difference,” she said.
It began when truckloads of clothing and relief supplies were delivered to the church.
The organization has also provided thousands of meals to Coney Island residents which Hulla called, “a Godsend.”
She was referring to the dire situation in Coney Island, one where the storm took out so much of the local infrastructure that finding food and preparing meals has been so difficult.
To help, Red Cross food trucks canvassed nearby streets distributing hot meals, water and snacks. Additional Red Cross vehicles were stationed in front of Hulla’s church distributing food to hundreds more every day. Today, the Red Cross continues to deliver meals.
“Seeing the Red Cross sends a message of hope to the community.” Hulla said, “It tells us that we are not abandoned.”
In addition to prepared meals, grocery boxes funded by the American Red Cross are also distributed from Hulla’s church.
“A lot of people here were having a tough time purchasing food before the storm. Now, with the added financial burden that Sandy has caused, it’s almost impossible.”
But for a neighborhood that has seen its share of tough times, Hulla said the significance of the Red Cross goes beyond food and supplies.
“Red Cross volunteers bring such positive energy,” Hulla said. “We are not used to that. It lifts people up; it infuses the community. We need that here.”
“And for me personally,” Hulla added. “Seeing them tells me that I don’t have to do this alone.”
MINEOLA, NY, Feb. 8 — The American Red Cross has opened a shelter at Westbury High School, 1 Post Ave, Old Westbury.
While Long Islanders are encouraged to remain in their owns as the storm hits, the shelter serves as an alternative for those who may not feel safe in their homes.
Cots and blankets will be provided; however, those seeking shelter should bring hygiene gear, pillows, medications, change of clothes, toys for children, and other comfort items.
At this time, no shelters are open in Suffolk County, though volunteers are on alert and shelter supplies have been pre-positioned.
Long Islanders are encouraged to visit http://www.redcross.org for storm safety information and shelter locations. They may also call 1-877-RED-CROSS.