Monthly Archives: November 2012

The American Red Cross does not accept or solicit small quantities of individual donations of items for emergency relief purposes. Items such as collections of food, used clothing, and shoes often must be cleaned, sorted, and repackaged which impedes the valuable resources of money, time, and personnel that are needed for other aspects of our relief operation.

–National Red Cross Website

Here in the offices of the Southeastern Pennsylvania American Red Cross, I sit very near two lovely young women who are in charge of managing donations, large and small, for our disaster relief efforts in general and, more recently, our efforts to mitigate the suffering caused by Hurricane Sandy. They also take calls from people who wish to hold fundraising efforts of their own and then donate the results to the Red Cross.

These women do essential work. Without them, we would have been much less successful in collecting funds for this enormous project. They also face a surprising challenge. Citizens call all the time and want to donate stuff. By “stuff”, I mean things, items, objects they already own but no longer have need of. Judging by the quantity of these calls, mountains and mountains of “stuff” awaits redistribution.  And, it’s human nature that our generosity immediately finds a focus on items we no longer need. It’s much easier to give away a winter coat that’s been living in the attic for ten years, or the paper towels we overbought at Costco, than the cold hard cash we need for our own future purchases.

Unfortunately for those kind-hearted folks on the other end of the phone, the Red Cross cannot accept material donations. There are many excellent reasons for this policy. First, material donations require warehouses for storage before they can be redistributed. Second, these donations do not always meet the needs of those we serve. (When you collect the winter coat from the attic, you might also be tempted to throw in that old Fisher Price Playhouse Kitchen – a sweet and generous gesture, but not much use in an emergency). Third, material donations need to be sorted carefully, cleaned and showcased in a way that allows those in need to access them without too much trouble. This is a very difficult task to accomplish and takes away resources from meeting the urgent needs of those affected by the disaster.

Here at the Red Cross, our goal is to provide effective disaster relief to victims of terrible events. Please check out the “what-we-do” section of our website if you would like more information. The components of our mission are food, shelter and relief from suffering.  When Hurricane Sandy struck, we needed volunteers to set up and man shelters and meet the physical and emotional needs of displaced residents. We needed spaces to house relocated citizens and, most importantly, money to purchase and deliver blankets, cots, pillows, food and other daily life essentials. This is a great article about why material donations can sometimes do more harm than good. There are many others.

We have been astounded by the generosity of the people of our region.  We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. The two young women who sit near me are inundated with offers to give money and offers to fundraise even more. These donations will help us do our work in the most effective way possible. To those, who call with material donations, we commend your impulse to help. Please understand when we say we cannot take your material donations and refer you to agencies that do.

American Red Cross Disaster Action Team Leader and Disaster Mental Health Specialist Danelle Stoppel is always on the short list of those to be sent to assist with national Red Cross responses. She’s referred to around our chapter as “Deployment Danelle.” She recently deployed to New York to assist with the Sandy response by providing essential mental health services to folks dealing with the aftermath of the superstorm.

Below is a compilation of messages and photos Danelle texted to our Director of Communications. It will be updated periodically until her return.

November 16

Arrived at Manhattan (Greater New York) Chapter Headquarters. It was wonderful to meet up with people I have worked with on other DRs (Disaster Responses). I have been assigned to the borough of Queens which includes several hard-hit areas. I will be meeting with my team tonight and tomorrow we have been assigned to the bulk distribution sites throughout our area. The atmosphere at Headquarters was upbeat, but for those who have been here for several weeks report they are exhausted and due to very low drives to and from work sites and desperate conditions in the hard hit areas.

June from Far Rockaway. she lost everything in her home to Sandy. All she really needs is a good pair of boots. Strong woman from Jamaica who made her home here 22 years ago. she loved to work with the elderly and is truly inspirational.

Bulk distribution teams are now going door to door delivering clean up kits in Far Rockaway. We are working in teams with nurses as 1475 start coming in.

Spontaneous volunteers with car loads of clothes, etc. helping anyone in need in Far Rockaway.

Door to door clean up kits are being delivered to Rockaway residents. I am now working with bulk distribution on a team with nurses and mental health specialists.

I can’t talk about individual people, but it is very sad. People look like they have been in a war zone. I love being on the ground with real people. I miss everyon.

SEPA Volunteers Anthony and Ben with our ERV which have been serving meals and distributing items to those affected by Sandy in NY.

Tomorrow, I return to the same distribution site. Due to the lack of housing options, we are staying in Manhattan, only 20 miles from the worst natural disaster to hit New York. Being downtown close to Times Square, it’s hard to imagine that such widespread disaster exists. the leadership in NYC has made it easier for the Red Cross to function. Our vehicles do not pay tolls and there is a facility where we can fill up our vehicles for no cost. Our hotel is parking our vehicles at no cost. The amount of people focused on this disaster is evident in all areas of the city. The respect for the American Red Cross is evident when you speak with people and so many people have gone out of their way to thank me.

November 17

Saw Clifton (SEPA COO) this morning. He looked well rested and was attempting to control the crowd of people trying to out-process (leave the job). 

I am working with a young man from Kentucky. He was emailed a newsletter from the American Association of marriage and family therapists asking for volunteers to work with the Red Cross. He applied and was quickly approved and arrived in New York City four days later. Talk about fast-tracked and bringing good people into the Red Cross…

November 18

Today, I partnered with an international agency called Heart to Heart and delivered mental health services to their clients. Many did not speak English and I interpreted for them. This part of Queens is home to many nationalities and cultures. Many families from Guatemala, Mexico and Puerto Rico sought medical advice due to lack of electricity which destroyed their daily supply of insulin. I heard a very comment that no one could believe this could happen in New York. Many people stayed in their homes until the water reached their porch. Perhaps the most distressing aspect is the impact of Sandy on senior citizens here and in New Jersey. Losing their homes and all their belongings has impacted them physically, economically and emotionally.

November 23

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, but not in Coney Island.  Some areas have no stores open.  The people depend heavily on the Red Cross for one meal a day.  There are many people of Russian descent who do not speak English.

November 25

Each day is a challenge and yesterday and today were more profoundly so. We were called to a high rise apartment in Brooklyn.  There, we met with a mother of a 47 year old gentleman who has been severely disabled since nine years old and is wheelchair bound.  He no longer has the use of his

legs and his left hand. Despite his physical limitations, he works as a lawyer in Manhattan.  He lives on the fourth floor, and when the storm hit he was unable to leave his bed due to the loss of electricity.  He was eventually hospitalized five days later due to hypothermia.  He has returned home, but cannot function due to the loss of his van, which was lost to salt water erosion.

November 26

Today’s challenge was thirty senior citizens who lived on Coney Island.  We evacuated them to a shelter in Brooklyn miles away

from their small neighborhood.  They are seniors who are living independently with staff who assist them to remain independent.  They are now living in a shelter in another building.  They have no hot meals since they normally cook for themselves. While they are being assisted by personnel they know, they are crowded together in a strange part of New York where they know no one.  We will be returning to assist them with the ongoing stress associated with the loss of their privacy and their community on Coney Island.

Stoppel with Lauren Watson and Noel Green

Stoppel with Lauren Watson and Noel Green

November 27

Hey, look who I ran into at 7:30…SEPA is in the house.

November 28

Noel and his team. Two days on this disaster response and Noel has again become the GO TO MAN.  Philly is making a difference…..lending our best to Manhattan.

Noel and his Team

Noel and his Team

Danelle and her team out to dinner

Danelle and her team out to dinner

November 29

Finally we are together to share a meal…

November 30

Bryan showed up at our outreach in site in Broad Channel.  Great seeing Bryan!

Bryan showed up at our outreach in site in Broad Channel. Great seeing Bryan!

For the past several days, I have been on an outreach team.  We are returning to places we know very well. This time we are armed with supplies, water, food, clothing, batteries, cleaning kits and winter coats.  Disaster victims needs are endless and after one month, they are tired, cold,frustrated and desperate. People living on the outer islands are now experiencing very cold weather. This team concept is an effort to find people whose needs have notbeen met.  Often, these people have lost everything.  Housing shortage appears to be the greatest need.  People from Coney Island are now living in hotels in Manhattan.  
Parents are driving their children back to Coney Island,  Rockaway and Far Rockaway daily to attend their neighborhood school, which is open.  Hotels cannot handle all of these people since the holiday season is coming.  

Danelle with client

Danelle with client

December 4
Today is the last day I will be on a team visiting families who lost a loved one in Hurricane Sandy. I have had a great deal of experience in the last year on these teams. I am always humbled to meet families and hear their stories. It requires one to hold back on emotions in order to get the job done.
When we give the family the donation from the Red Cross we say, “This is from the American people.” This is why I volunteer for the American Red Cross.
I will be back in Philly tomorrow and my Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross family will surround me and I will be grateful that I represented them here in New York.

More team members from Kansas, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia

Love and Peace to All
— Danelle Stoppel

Almost three weeks ago Superstorm Sandy roared ashore and devastated vast parts of our region. She destroyed the homes of tens of thousands of people, disrupting and/or inconveniencing the lives of millions of others. I’ve wanted to write about this for more than a week, but whenever I set aside time to do it, something more pressing always came up.

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staff at the scene of a massive fire in the Rockaways section of Queens. The fire was a direct result of Superstorm Sandy.

For starters, I have mixed feelings about the result of Sandy. On the one hand, I feel eternally lucky that my home was spared any damage. I didn’t even lose power. Most of my friends were also spared. My brother and his family in north Jersey had no power for more than a week, but otherwise were fine. I am also grateful the Philadelphia area largely dodged a bullet. Yes many people had damage to their homes and cars, and tens of thousands lost power, but relatively speaking, Philadelphia and its immediate area avoided a catastrophe.

That’s obviously not the case with our friends and neighbors to the east and north. This is why I’m conflicted. I feel terrible about what has happened along the Jersey shore and New York. It’s awful. Basically, I’m glad it didn’t happen here, but heartbroken it happened there.

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staffers stop at this home in the Rockaways section of Queens during a tour of just some of the damage. This home in many ways is symbolic of the damage Sandy inflicted.

No matter the conflicted feelings I have about Sandy’s destruction, however, one thing I am not conflicted about is my pride in the Red Cross. No non-governmental or military organization can do what the Red Cross does on the scale it does it, as efficiently and effectively as the Red Cross. NOT ONE. Sure things haven’t been perfect, but the Red Cross is fulfilling its promise and its mission to alleviate human suffering. We are providing emergency relief to tens of thousands of people every day. There is no disputing that.

Here at the American Red Cross Southeastern Pennsylvania, we spent days preparing for a calamity. We dedicated enormous time and resources trying to educate the public about how to prepare and what to do. We positioned volunteers, supplies, etc. across the region. We sheltered more than 600 people before, during, and after Sandy hit in our area alone. Several shelters were open for a week for people who lost power.  We also  provided shelter for pets, thanks to a partnership with the area’s County Animal Rescue Teams (video below). This prevented people from having to make the awful choice between staying behind and potentially be in danger or leaving their pets behind.

We even set up in a matter of hours a mega shelter with the potential to hold 1,300 evacuees from New York, New Jersey, and West Virginia.  We provided supplies to help the hardest hit areas of our region clean up and rebuild. 

Once the danger passed in our region, we stepped up our efforts to help New York and New Jersey. Southeastern PA American Red Cross Chief Operating Officer, Clifton Salas is one of the leaders of the entire NY Sandy relief operation.

American Red Cross Southeastern PA spent thousands of dollars on food on its way to New Jersey to deliver food and supplies to hundreds of people.

American Red Cross Southeastern PA staffers hand out food and supplies to hundreds of people at a Rite Aid in a hard hit area of Jersey City, NJ

Southeastern PA has sent (and will continue to send) dozens of volunteers for several week deployments to help with things like food and supply distribution and mental health counseling. In addition to that, we send dozens of volunteers for day-long and weekend trips to NY and NJ. Many drive the big trucks that distribute food and supplies. Others literally walk door to door in hard hit neighborhoods (video below).

While the Red Cross is the best equipped non-governmental agency to handle a massive crisis like Sandy, the Red Cross knows it cannot do it alone. The Red Cross cannot be all things to all people and cannot be everywhere all the time. So we lined up dozens of partners to assist with food distribution, sheltering, and relief supplies. We also had partners provide services that the Red Cross doesn’t typically offer.

There will be always be critics. The Red Cross is not and should not be above criticism. But any criticism that attacks the effort and will of the Red Cross and its volunteers and staff nationwide, is entirely misguided. The dedication and commitment of a Red Crosser is unparalleled. Period. End of story. There are bound to be missteps during a relief operation the size and scope of Sandy. Perfection, though, is not the goal because the Red Cross does not set unattainable goals. Success is the goal. And by any measure the Red Cross response to his point has been a success. And the ongoing support the Red Cross is receiving is a remarkable reflection of that.

I love my job. I love the feeling I have knowing I work for an organization dedicated to helping people. But I won’t lie; there have been plenty of days when I couldn’t wait to get home. I couldn’t wait for this to be over. I couldn’t wait for my phone to stop ringing and my email to stop buzzing.  And I wasn’t even in NY or NJ.

Just like with any job, there are frustrations, politics, and silly rules; days when it feels “like just a job.” But in the midst of a disaster, those things ultimately don’t matter.  You jump into action. You do what needs to be done. You hope you’re doing some good and helping people.

Now I can confidently say that I’m no longer hoping. I know for sure that I am.

(Below, compilation of news clips summarizing American Red Cross Southeastern PA preparations for and response to Sandy.)

For the last week, and even still now, one of the biggest headlines in the news is Hurricane Sandy. Days before she hit in New Jersey, the tri-state area, along with other states along the East Coast were preparing for her arrival. Residents as well as city and state officials began to prepare and take all the necessary steps. I was going around spreading the word to my family and friends about making sure they had an emergency kit. My family, especially my brother, laughed at me as I ran around the house putting those last minute items in the bag. As Sandy got closer to making landfall in New Jersey and the winds began to pick up, my brother thanked me for preparing the family.

I knew any minute the electricity would go out as I walked around the house with my flashlight. Sandy finally hit New Jersey and hours passed and not even a flicker of the lights at my house in Philadelphia. As I watched the news that night, I was just speechless and felt so lucky after seeing all the damage that Sandy had caused. Thousands of people were without electricity, properties had sustained damage, trees were down, there was extensive flooding, lives were lost and much more all because of one hurricane.

As a volunteer with the Red Cross, I was just waiting for the opportunity to help. One of the great things about being a volunteer is there are many ways that you can help and show your support. On Friday November 2nd I had the opportunity to participate in the Help our Neighbors telephone drive held at 6abc. For 3 non stop hours from 4pm-7pm people from all over the tri-state area called wanting to make a donation and show their support. Several people that I spoke with on the phones had been days without electricity, some shared stories and memories about taking family trips to some of the jersey shore areas that were badly damaged. Others, like myself, who were not affected at all and just wanted to show their support. I also spoke to several people who wanted to thank the Red Cross for all that they have and will be doing as well as all the utility  workers, fire, police, city and state officials, news reporters and everyone else that had been working non-stop to help.

As I spoke with the different donors on the phone, and felt the tingling in my ears from being on the phone for so long, it put a smile on my face. I was a little overwhelmed and just amazed at how much people cared so much about others and how communities and states can come together to help one another when tragedies occur. It also made me feel great to be apart of an organization like the American Red Cross.

-Jennifer Ingram
Communications volunteer

This is not the first time Palisades School District Superintendent Dr. Bridget O’Connell has spent a few days in a shelter. Just about this same time last year during Hurricane Irene this school district opened its doors to the community. “Last year we didn’t have the same kind of power outages but we opened the middle school for showers and hot meals,” recalled Dr. O’Connell.

Palisades School District Superintendent Dr. Bridget O’Connell at an office inside the Red Cross shelter at Palisades High School set up to help people displaced by Hurricane Sandy.  photo: Erik Knight/American Red Cross

The school has long been the center of this community where the district serves families in five townships covering 100 square miles. Dr. O’Connell sits alongside Donna Holmes, director of community relations and development and I in a dimly lit room off the main hallway of the building that houses those impacted by Hurricane Sandy over this last week. Their faces are wind burned and they pull small hand warmer packets out of their gloves without taking their eyes off their smart phones. “Tuesday AT&T was down, so these became paperweights,” she says with a smile, “it’s an awesome team I work with.”

A Red Cross volunteer assists Bucks County residents and other community volunteers distribute supplies outside Palisades High School   Photo: Erik Knight/American Red Cross

As the weekend approached, it’s a juggling act. Making sure all of the evacuees are being cared for, along with volunteers from the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Palisades Youth Crew. There’s a steady stream of people passing through the room carrying boxes of food to the kitchen area. “There’s going to be stuffing and turkey and something with apples apparently,” Dr. O’Connell laments as a volunteer carts bags of apples past us.  When I ask about school on Monday, she pulls what was a sheet of copy paper out of her pocket with a diagram on it, “It’s all sketched out. If power is restored ‘Plan A’ is to move the shelter to another area.”

Food at the Palisades High School Red Cross shelter in Bucks County, PA. The food was available to shelter residents and people from the community in need of a hot meal. Photo: Erik Knight/American Red Cross

As power continues to comeback on, many residents are coming to the school for a hot lunch, supplies like shovels, work gloves and water. But perhaps even more important is the sense of community the school is able to provide. “Just talking to people…making it personal,” she says, “things are still optimistic compared to other places (hit by Hurricane Sandy).” Donna Holmes highlights the importance of the students learning through service.  “Volunteering like this promotes leadership. It gives them a real glimpse of what it takes,” she says, “student, leadership, service.”

Palisades High School Red Cross shelter residents Nikki and Sheila share a laugh while waiting for their power to be restored.  Photo: Erik Knight/American Red Cross

Our time together passes quickly. As Dr. O’Connell puts her gloves back on and gathers the empty zip lock back that held her cold cut sandwich from lunch she says, “We set a very high standard last year and we’re proud of that.” That pride shows.

About 20-30 people called the Palisades High School gymnasium home following Hurricane Sandy struck Bucks County. photo: Erik Knight/American Red Cross

We walk back down the hall as Donna and she point out key players in this relief effort; school board members, the principal, families of students who are also storm victims but are volunteering. We head back out to the parking lot where cars continue to line up and get supplies. More pallets of bottled water are coming and going. It is a true community effort, neighbor helping neighbor, strangers becoming friends, kids learning to become leaders, all in the parking lot of Palisades High School, a community institution.

– By Scott Snyder

American Red Cross volunteer

The words “Thank goodness for the Red Cross”  popped up in a text bubble on my phone early Wednesday morning. Yes, indeed, for so many reasons. What a week it’s been. Our job is to take care of the important stuff: shelter, food, comfort, survival. There has been a lot of work to do.

Currently, the Red Cross is sheltering close to 9,000 people in 171 Red Cross shelters across 13 states. Wow. . . Locally, close to 200 people (196) and 19 pets stayed the night in local SEPA Red Cross shelters in Montgomery, Bucks and Philadelphia Counties.

When I was in our offices last Thursday, I peeked in on a meeting of disaster preparedness personnel concerning the potential for a large hurricane to incapacitate the East Coast early the following week. At that point, the encounter between Sandy and the coast of New Jersey was still purely hypothetical and only one model was suggesting the storm would not turn safely out to sea. Even so, our staff was taking the situation seriously and beginning to make the preparations necessary to provide support and shelter should the worst case scenario occur. Thank goodness they did.

Needless to say, we’ve been moderately busy since then. At the height of the storm, we were ready with 14 shelters set up in five counties. We hosted a phone bank to answer storm related questions at a local television station. Tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, a Hurricane App and several media appearances by our CEO, Judge Renée Hughes, shared vital information with the citizens of Southeastern, Pennsylvania. We helped people prepare and they did. We encouraged them to “shelter in place” by staying home, staying off the streets and letting our public officials do their jobs. People listened and we made it through this.

For those who needed to evacuate, we provided warmth with blankets, food, shelter and the companionship of volunteers and others in the same situation. We take comfort seriously and believe it helps everyone weather the storm. And with comfort in mind, we are proud to say that Halloween celebrations went ahead for several of our younger guests at a shelter in Pleasantville, PA. Enjoy these pics of some great costumes and delicious candy!