Fearless and possibly foolish

Red Cross volunteer Claudia Kelly, on the  ground responding to Superstorm Sandy, sends us “Greetings from New York City”:

I’m halfway through my third week on this operation. I started in Mass Care Sheltering, and was sent to manage a shelter in Glen Cove, Nassau County, Long Island during and immediately after the storm. I had the chance to work with some fabulous people there. Our shelter population stayed small, ranging from 3 to 18 residents, but many community members stopped by during the day to charge their phones and to escape their powerless and increasingly cold homes. A group of Seniors joined us to eat one afternoon (this was a few days into my super effective all-cold-sandwich diet), and they had so much fun that several of them registered as shelter guests and proceeded to stay up all night laughing, chatting, and watching DVDs.

It’s a small Red Cross world: Claudia Kelly (right) bumped into Choua Yang (left), another disaster responder from Minnesota, while working at the Red Cross headquarters in New York City. (Seeing friends during disaster response is nice.)

Later, some shelter consolidation took place and I joined the staff of an 800-resident mega shelter at the Nassau County Community College just before Election Day. The state Board of Elections brought in absentee ballots for the residents, and Best Buy provided TVs, computers and WiFi hotspots so they could follow the election results. (Over at the staff shelter, we were all just exhausted and went right to sleep.) The mega shelter had many other amenities as well: a free laundry service, a medical clinic, a cell phone charging and loan station, and a supervised children’s play area. Nevertheless, a population that large is chaotic. Several residents were transferred to hospitals, including one in full labor who gave birth to a baby boy (+1 to shelter count since Mom was still registered!).

After two weeks in Sheltering I transferred to Client Casework, which is based out of Operation Headquarters at the New York City Red Cross office building.  I’ve been on Staten Island for the past few days representing the Red Cross at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center near the shore.  There was a tremendous amount of damage there, and our presence seems meaningful as a validation of the incredible loss the community has suffered. I am being sent to a different area tomorrow, as I am among the fearless and possibly foolish few who are willing to take on New York City driving, and another team’s driver is having a day off. Traffic here is truly abysmal, as some of the tunnels remain closed, and many streets in Lower Manhattan are clogged with recovery trucks and trailers.  But that’s only half the fun: New York City drivers are an aggressive lot. I’m working on my swerve technique in hopes that defensive driving becomes an Olympic sport in Rio in 2016.

Hope to see you all soon back in Minnesota.


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