As a rookie at the American Red Cross, I was only a week out of disaster relief training before one of the largest storms in recent history devastated the East Coast.
Hurricane Sandy was unlike any other weather phenomenon, affecting 24 states from Florida to Maine. 8 million homes lost power only to have winter storm Athena come through right behind Sandy.
The American Red Cross is 96% volunteer run. Disaster relief volunteers are trained in basic disaster relief, along with a specialty area of their choosing. These specialty areas range from logistics to mental health services. The training I had just completed before Sandy hit was Client Casework. Caseworkers talk to disaster victims and assess what they need to get back to the same state they were in before the disaster struck.
After arriving at headquarters in North Brunswick, New Jersey, I was assigned to a team of caseworkers in Atlantic City. We started out doing casework at a shelter in the Atlantic City Convention Center. The challenges were numerous, and one of our biggest challenges was working to find alternative housing for each family, in conjunction with FEMA .
Most hotels and motels were booked due to the huge numbers of displaced people. Rental prices were skyrocketing and available lodging was snatched up quickly. A lot of people could not go back to their homes because of the massive flood damage, which had turned beautiful homes into molding structures.
FEMA worked hard to get shelter for the families. Samaritan’s Purse cleaned out debris and molding furniture from homes. Many organizations and kind hearted donors from across the nation brought food and clothing. Even Lowe’s and Boston Market teamed up to distribute 22,000 Thanksgiving meals to families in New York and New Jersey. The most impressive part of disaster relief efforts is the unified efforts of people, businesses and organizations to bring back the livelihood of those people who have just lost everything.
When the shelter residents moved on, my team of caseworkers literally started going door to door from Atlantic City to Cape May. It’s definitely true what they say about Jersey folk, they are tough, and it would take much more than a superstorm to get them down!
Driving up and down the coast there were areas with obvious devastation, but the visible clean-up happened so fast that within two weeks after the hurricane hit, most streets were cleared of sand and debris, power lines were back up, and cell phone towers were restored. The real damage was the psychological and emotional toll Sandy dealt to her victims.
In the 11 weeks since the storm hit, the Red Cross has had more than 16,800 volunteers, working to serve roughly 11 million meals and snacks, make 109,000 health services and emotional support contacts, distribute more than 6.9 million relief items and provide more than 81,000 shelter stays, and services continue. I personally assisted 60 families during my three weeks in New Jersey.
For most of my clients I was able to help them get back on track by giving them support, guidance and a shoulder to lean on. Thanks to generous donations from our business partners I was able to give families warm coats, diapers and formula for their children, tools to salvage their homes, food, and emergency supply kits.
I was able to refer clients with medical needs to our Red Cross health services personnel who helped them get refills for lost prescriptions, replacements for destroyed prescription glasses and walkers for those who had mobility issues. I am proud to have been a part of such an amazing organization and having the opportunity to impact so many lives.
Cayce Baierski is the Preparedness Coordinator & AmeriCorps Member at the
American Red Cross, Central Valley