I recently returned from Hurricane Sandy Deployment in New Jersey. This is the second Disaster Response since I began my internship at the Red Cross in August. This time around there were not as many surprises and I was more comfortable knowing what to pack and anticipate. I arrived at the Newark airport on Monday night, November 5th. I was lucky to be able to fly with Bianca, our UF Red Cross Gators Co-President, and even luckier that we were put in a hotel in Jersey City before receiving our assignments. The hotel was located just across from NYC and when we checked in for the night we could see the lit skyline from our window. I was not expecting to be put in a hotel after my first deployment, where I spent most of my nights either on a cot or in a church on a bunk bed.
The next morning we traveled to the headquarters in North Brunswick to get our orientation and job assignment. I was assigned to the northern New Jersey Disaster Relief Operation and sent to headquarters in Fairfield New Jersey. My work on this disaster response was different than when I deployed to Louisiana for Hurricane Isaac. This time, I spent a lot of my two weeks working from the chapter headquarters, which was a beautiful 8 million dollar donation building…a little different from the office in Gainesville. I assisted the client casework team with planning our response and the areas we needed to cover. It gave me a lot of respect for the management side of a response. I was able to see all the reporting, paperwork, and data entry that is required by national on a daily basis.
Before I began working from the office, I was able to go visit one of the client shelters we had open. We were preparing to start shelter casework and the team I was assigned went to visit the shelter. After meeting with the manager we decided we would come back first thing in the morning and get to work with the clients. Later that night, I came down with a horrible stomach bug, which had me up all night and into the next day sick. One of the worst sicknesses I’ve ever experienced. It ended up being an illness that was rotating through the volunteers and every day multiple people were sick. The number of people affected became so severe that the office was decontaminated and signs about hand washing and proper hygiene had to be posted in hopes of keeping anyone else that hadn’t been affected well.
Union Beach was one of the hardest hit areas that I saw while I was deployed. The destruction was unimaginable. In places where houses once stood there were only cement foundations left, or in some cases piles of rubble. Cars were turned upside down and others were lying under a fallen tree. The scenes were unreal and the fact that these were homes where people had lived only a week before was heartbreaking. Seeing this area definitely put the disaster into perspective for me. I was glad I was there to help with recovery, but I also had the feeling of wanting to do more. Every volunteer that deploys is of great need and importance and that is something that needs to be kept in mind. Although you are one person, you are part of a greater picture in helping these communities recover from unimaginable damage.
Although I’m back home and returning to my daily routine, the disaster recovery is far from over in the Northeast. Red Cross volunteers are still deploying and will be through the holidays to ensure long term assistance and to make sure that everyone has a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and clothing to stay warm. Thank you to all the volunteers who continue to give their time to help others in need and for the continued support the Red Cross provides.
-Sarah Napolitano, Americorps Member for NCFC Red Cross