The Power of Volunteers

Stay close to them and to the mission!

By Jorge Martinez, Regional Chief Operating Officer

Editor’s note: As of October 19, 2017, the Red Cross, along with community and government partners, has provided 1.3 million overnight stays in emergency shelters, served more than 6.7 million meals and snacks, and distributed more than 3.6 million emergency relief items to people in need, following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. More than 16,000 trained Red Cross disaster workers, 91% of them volunteers, have been mobilized to support hurricane relief efforts.  Among those workers is Jorge Martinez, who wrote the following upon returning from a three-week assignment in Puerto Rico. 

The Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.  We’ve all heard this before and certainly embrace it.   We wouldn’t be part of this great organization otherwise.  But to see our mission statement in action is special.  I was fortunate enough to be part of the relief operation in Puerto Rico; I saw human suffering alleviated through the compassionate and selfless service of our dedicated and humble volunteers.

IMG_0317Puerto Rico is home to nearly 3.5 million American citizens spread over an island that is roughly 35 miles by 100 miles of challenging, mountainous terrain.  Ravaged by a category 4 hurricane — just 2 MPH shy of a cat 5 — the devastation was immense.  There was no part of the island that was not affected.  What you’ve been seeing on the news is accurate and maybe even understated.  But the island residents have come together with a sense of community that I’ve only experienced one other time – in the aftermath of 9/11.

So there we were in San Juan.  We had two carloads of volunteers that were trailing a supply box truck with a local driver.  We were en route to a remote location in the central mountains of the island with no specific knowledge of how to get there.  On our way out of the city, a police officer who had just finished his 12 hour shift came alongside us and agreed to escort us to the site in what turned out to be a 2 hour trek.  Even he got lost, but he got us there.IMG_0183

Once on site, we met with local officials and determined the best place to help those most in need.  We got to our agreed upon distribution site and while we off-loaded the supplies and set up the operation, the local officials went around the neighborhood spreading the word.  Soon we had a line of hundreds of families that were in need of basic supplies like water, food and tarps.

I met countless wonderful volunteers during my trip and became close with a few of them.  One of them was Brad; he was from Kalamazoo, MI and we were on this trip together.  Near the end of this operation, both he and I were going house to house, delivering supplies to those who could not make it to the pick-up site.  We came across a wonderful lady who had already picked up her supplies.  However, her next door neighbor’s house had been destroyed.  It was a humble place before the storm; now, only a small room had any semblance of a roof still attached.  She had taken her elderly neighbor into her own small home but wanted to get some tarps to cover the few remaining savable items that her neighbor had stored in that small room.imagejpeg_0 (002)

We came back with several tarps for her and gave her a hug.  By the way, at this point a downpour had started.  Mid-hug, she broke down and started to cry.  Coincidentally, Brad and I both had something in our eyes that caused us to tear up as well.  She thanked us profusely while hoping that God bless all of us.  The truth is we were blessed by just being in her presence.  And I was doubly blessed by being in the presence of Brad and the many other volunteers like him.  And no, this was not an isolated incident.

When I first took this job, my predecessor told me to stay close to the mission.  She was mostly right.  Stay close to the mission and to the volunteers!  I want to personally thank the volunteers I had the pleasure to work with in Puerto Rico and the nearly 1,500 volunteers of Northeast Ohio who go quietly about their work without much fanfare.  You make a world of difference — THANK YOU!

See more photos from Jorge’s work in Puerto Rico by clicking here for our Flickr album.

Visit our YouTube page for a video of Jorge’s experience.

Outpouring of Appreciation from Storm Victims

It’s been seven weeks since Hurricane Harvey slammed into Eastern Texas, leaving flooding and destruction in its wake.

Not long afterward, Hurricane Irma struck the U. S. Virgin Islands, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Then there was Hurricane Maria, causing devastating damage in the USVI and Puerto Rico.

As the American Red Cross, including chapters here in Northeast Ohio,  answered the call to aid those impacted by these devastating storms, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert goers in Las Vegas.  The Red Cross responded again, sending disaster mental health workers, including Renee Palagyi, Senior Disaster Program Manager for the Northeast Ohio Region.  She is among 90 local disaster workers who have been deployed since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf Coast.

And now, we are beginning to send Red Cross workers to California in response to the deadly wildfires there.

As the disaster response continues, many of those affected have offered their thanks to the Red Cross, particularly for providing shelters, meals and comfort, as well as to the donors who make our efforts possible.

 

NEO Volunteers Head to Puerto Rico

Seven NEO Workers to Provide Sheltering, Health Care and IT Support

Among the nearly 5,300 Red Cross workers now responding to hurricane relief efforts across the south are seven Northeast Ohio workers assigned to help people in Puerto Rico.  The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

“Here comes the cavalry,” said Jorge Martinez, Regional Chief Operating Officer for the Northeast Ohio Red Cross when asked what message he had for the people of Puerto Rico.  “The Red Cross already had workers on the ground, who were responding to the damage done by Hurricane Irma when Maria struck.  We’re on our way to help as well.”

At a news conference in the lobby of Regional Headquarters in Cleveland, Jorge was flanked by volunteers D. J. Hamrick, Sean Reyes, Rusty Breitbach and Bruce Butler, who have also been assigned to the Puerto Rico relief operation.  Two other Northeast Ohio volunteers, a health care worker and an IT specialist, are already on the island.

More volunteers are needed, especially those who speak Spanish, who are in good physical shape, and who can commit to serving for 2-3 weeks.  Volunteer training sessions are being held each week throughout Northeast Ohio.  Visit redcross.org/neo, or call 216-431-3328 for more information.

Finding Family Following Hurricane Maria

Many Northeast Ohio residents are concerned about loved ones in Puerto Rico.

Hurricane Harvey 2017

The American Red Cross Safe and Well website is a free public reunification tool
that allows individuals and organizations to register and post messages to
indicate that they are safe, or to search for loved ones. The site is always
available and open to the public and available in Spanish. Registrations and
searches can be done directly on the website. Registrations can also be
completed by texting SAFE to 78876. Messages exist in both Spanish and
English.

To speak with someone at the American Red Cross concerning a
missing friend or relative who has a serious, pre-existing health or mental health
condition, please call 1-800 RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Recent disasters, like Hurricane Maria and the earthquake in Mexico, have left
many across the world looking for their loved ones, and the Red Cross is here to
help.

If you are looking for a U.S. citizen affected by recent international disasters,
please contact the U.S. Department of State Office of Overseas Citizens
Services at 1-888-407-4747 or go online at
https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/emergencies.html

If you live in the United States and are looking for non-U.S. citizen family
members affected by Hurricane Maria in the French and Dutch territories, and
British Virgin Islands, please visit www.familylinks.icrc.org to find more
information.

If you are seeking information about non-U.S. citizen family members in Mexico
who have been missing since the recent earthquake, please visit
www.redcross.org/FamilyLinks, or call the American Red Cross Restoring Family
Links Helpline at 844-782-9441.

During and after large, devastating disasters such as Hurricane Maria,
connectivity can be a challenge. If you’ve put a request in with American Red
Cross or the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies,
please continue to virtually reach out to your friends and family.

Keep trying to reach out by calling during off-peak hours, and continue to send
text messages and emails. Continually check social media for updates.

Contact other family members or neighbors who live nearby who may be able to
provide you with information

Maria Strikes as Our Response to Harvey and Irma Continues

HURRICANE FAST FACTS
September 20, 2017

The American Red Cross has a launched a wide-ranging relief effort to provide safe shelter, food and comfort to people affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, even as Hurricane Maria strikes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Red Cross is part of a large team of agencies and organizations responding to provide help to those in need.

Hurricane Maria

  • Overnight, more than 10,000 people were provided refuge in almost 200 government and Red Cross shelters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    • On the U.S. Virgin Islands, 145 people took refuge in 6 evacuation shelters.
    • In Puerto Rico, 10,100 people hunkered down in 173 government evacuation shelters.
    • More than 160 Red Cross disaster workers were positioned in Puerto Rico and the USVI, riding out the storm.  Hundreds more are positioned to deploy where they are needed, with supplies, once the storm passes.

 Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

  • In the last three weeks, the Red Cross and community partners have provided more than 955,000 overnight stays in emergency shelters due to hurricanes.
  • Overnight, almost 3,800 people stayed in 21 Red Cross and partner shelters across Texas. To date, there have been more than 400,000 overnight shelter stays provided for Hurricane Harvey.
  • The Red Cross has served more than 3.35 million meals and snacks to people in need.
  • More than 5,800 Red Cross disaster workers and more than 330 emergency response vehicles – nearly our entire vehicle fleet – are on the ground right now, helping thousands of people affected by these storms.
  • More than 76 million hurricane and flood alerts have been issued through Red Cross mobile apps for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
  • 65 workers from Northeast Ohio have been deployed to the hurricane relief efforts, and more are expected to respond to Hurricane Maria.

 

Mexican earthquake

  • Yesterday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico killed hundreds of people.
  • More than 90 ambulances and an urban rescue unit of the Mexican Red Cross are helping search for survivors, transporting the injured to hospitals and providing first aid on the scene.
  • The Mexican Red Cross has deployed dozens of doctors and nurses to help with the response.
  • In all, more than 500 volunteers and staff were activated in the hours immediately following the disaster.
  • 17 urban rescue units, ambulances and logistic units will arrive today with more almost 70 more volunteers and staff.