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.”
Story by Lilly Watson, photo by Destry Carr
NEW YORK, N.Y. – American Red Cross volunteers of many appearances and backgrounds from cities all across America fill the fourth floor of the Red Cross Greater New York Chapter as they head out into the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.
Leah Seabury, age 24, manages to stand out amongst her diverse peers. It’s likely her lovable Guide Dog, Ralphie, who stands close by on his harness ready to help her move around the chapter and out on visits to disaster victims, helps her stand out.
In New York, on her first deployment from the Raleigh Regional Chapter in North Carolina, Seabury works in a multitude of service delivery areas, including the Disaster Action Team and Client Casework, her current assignment for Hurricane Sandy. Seabury says her passion for public service is what brought her to the Red Cross three years ago when she received Ralphie as her guide dog.
“I love helping people, and if I had my vision, I would work in public safety,” Seabury shares. “The Red Cross gave me the chance to still live my passion for helping others despite my disability.”
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Even before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, JetBlue started preparing for the Red Cross’ recovery.
To get the volunteers coming from across the country to New York, JFK airport’s “hometown airline,” arranged flights, and made the company’s Red Cross trained volunteer group, JetBlue Ready Team, available to begin work on the relief operation.
But on December 4, JetBlue gave Red Cross volunteers a much-needed breather by inviting dozens of them to a meet-and-greet with Il Volo, a critically acclaimed trio of Italian operatic pop teenage tenors. The personal reception was followed by a concert as part of the airline’s terminal T5 concert series at New York’s John F. Kennedy airport.
Story by Lilly Watson, photo by Nikki Baxendale
NEW YORK, N.Y. – While many services provided to disaster survivors may vary depending upon the type and size of the disaster, there is one type of service the Red Cross always brings to those in crisis: emotional support.
Since the days after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29, Red Cross Spiritual Care Teams have provided the Spiritual Care Services of presence, words of comfort, hope and prayer to people affected by the disaster. Red Cross clients and the family of loved ones who have faced profound loss, sometimes including the death or a spouse or loved one, can open up to Spiritual Care Team members about how this trauma has affected them and their spirituality.
Team members are ordained, licensed or commissioned by a religious authority to function in the specialized ministry of care or equivalent chaplaincy training.
Matthew Cobb, a Red Cross Spiritual Team member on the Hurricane Sandy operation in New York from Manhattan, Kansas, believed that his specialized training helps him understand religious backgrounds and cultural sensitivities, but he sometimes cannot reach everyone straight away. Here are six steps that all people can take to provide emotional support to people feeling loss and desperation:
1. Check the person’s breathing. Encouraging deep breaths can reduce anxiety and panic and allows survivors to begin getting in touch with their emotions. “When you’re connected to your breath, you can get in touch with your true emotions and begin getting it out through expression,” Cobb said.
2. Make sure the person is drinking plenty of water. Even if a storm survivor says he or she is not thirsty, chemicals in the brain are released during times of acute stress and anxiety that make people thirsty or dehydrated. The pause required to take a sip of water can lower the breath and help a person in an emotional state begin to refocus.
3. Pass the tissues. “Offering tissues to someone in distress lets them know that you recognize something is broken and that the expression of that is natural,” Cobb said.
4. Hugging and contact allows a shocked and grieving person to feel they can collapse. By being close to someone physically, his or her breath can begin to move from shallow and anxious to be on pace with the steady and deep breaths of the person of support.
5. Be accepting of thanks. “When someone in anguish thanks you for being there, you can know that appreciation means that he or she is moving out of imminent emotional distress,” Cobb said. Receiving these thanks fully and graciously lets the victim feel reciprocal of your service.
6. Look for early signs of acceptance. “When someone asks you to keep them in your thoughts or prayers, it signals that they are aware that this is a tough situation,” Cobb said. “While it will be hard, he or she is recognizing that there will be an end with your emotional support.”
While emotional support is Cobb and other members of the Spiritual Care Team’s specialty, many Red Cross workers bring this type of relief to everyone they serve. While Spiritual Team Members are trained to know the right words to say to people facing severe loss, the presence of a Red Cross worker can often be a sign of support to those trying to move on after a disaster.
“Just being there is so important, even before you say something,” Cobb said.
Story and photo by Bob Wallace
LONG BEACH, N.Y. – James Hodges is not one to look the other way when a community is in need.
The Pinetown area of Long Beach, on the south edge of Long Island, was without gas, electricity and heat for days after Superstorm Sandy. Hodges sprang into action and organized a distribution point for food, clothing and other much needed supplies at the Martin Luther King Community Center.
“Pinetown has the largest concentration of children in the city,” noted Hodges, “and hunger is not a stranger here.”
Those who could, responded to his prodding and soon the center was stocked with many of the essentials that families lost when storm-force winds and tidal surges tore through their neighborhoods.
The American Red Cross supports many grass-roots relief operations such as this, providing free hot meals, clean-up supplies, medical items and emotional support from 3 to 7 p.m. daily. The city of Long Beach has also assigned an employee to support Hodge’s efforts, and there is hope that utilities will soon be fully restored.
By Sue Kariker
Photo by Ginger Winings
FAR ROCKAWAYS, N.Y. – There’s more than one way to fill a hungry stomach.
For weeks, the familiar red-and-white American Red Cross trucks have been delivering meals to two senior housing complexes in Beach Channel on the southwest edge of Long Island, where Superstorm Sandy left widespread devastation.
More than 600 residents turn out to receive the carry-out clamshells of food they have come to rely on until power is restored and nearby stores reopen.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, however, the Red Cross trucks carried a bonus: Each resident received a cooler filled with non-perishable food to tide them over while the organization restocked and refueled for the Thanksgiving weekend push.
The Red Cross teamed up with the National Guard, which had been patrolling Long Beach Island – in the hard-hit Far Rockaways – for nearly four weeks.
“The partnership between the National Guard and the Red Cross has been saving the lives of the fragile population,” said Ruth Larkin, a resident of the Beach Street Senior Housing Complex who helped organize the handout at the high-rises.
Red Cross disaster responders would be working throughout the holiday weekend to get meals and comfort to families and individuals affected by Sandy, but they couldn’t be everywhere at once.
Photo and story by Elizabeth (Betsy) Morse
When the Gotham City Cheerleaders picked a disaster relief team to root for, the American Red Cross was the unanimous choice.
The group aspires to become the official cheerleading squad for the New York Giants football team, but in the meantime, they sharpen their skills with tailgate party performances and other appearances.
When Superstorm Sandy hit the New York/New Jersey area, several of the team members and their families were directly affected; the others knew they wanted to help. The team tried to volunteer to raise morale in devastated neighborhoods, but quickly found that many areas were closed to them. So they turned to using their public appearances into fundraisers.
Photo and Story by Dan Bedell
Navigating past mountains of mud-caked, molding furniture, appliances, drywall, flooring and other debris that line almost every street in Jersey shore communities like Seaside Heights has become routine for emergency response vehicle (ERV) teams with the American Red Cross.
Their efforts are clearly appreciated by home and business owners, staff and work crews hired in the weeks since hurricane Sandy to rip out furnishings, walls, flooring, fixtures and insulation in a race against time to reduce the risks of rot and mold.
“Here, you look like you could definitely use more of these,” shouts ERV driver Dale Kiriaze of Reno, NV, offering safety masks to grimy-faced workers who applaud the truck’s arrival after steering around debris, potholes and puddles from a steady rain.
“Just promise me you won’t go using them to rob a bank,” he adds, drawing a much-needed chuckle from weary workers who gratefully accept the free masks and other items from Kiriaze and his Red Cross colleague, Kelly Phillips of Lake Tahoe, CA.
“I could really use a bottle of water,” says one worker in muddy overalls, to which Phillips hands him a dozen bottles to share with others in the group, then tosses each a fresh pairs of work gloves and offers clean-up supplies like disinfecting bleach, buckets, mops, garbage bags and tarps.
The Red Cross team then moved to another street to repeat the process. Their efforts, and those of ERV teams from across the country, have to date added up to more than six million relief items distributed free to thousands of people in New Jersey, New York and other states, each gift welcome as it’s one less expense they must bear in coping with the cost, not to mention the stress and back aches, of recovery from Sandy.