Red Cross Workers Provide Comfort Amid Devastation

Some of the most visible activities of the Red Cross during a disaster involve giving people food, water and shelter. These are critically important, but they’re not the entire story.

After going through a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy—the likes of which most people had not seen before—survivors often need someone to listen to their story and provide a comforting word and presence.

The Red Cross has more than 5,000 disaster workers helping those affected by Sandy, some of whom are mental health volunteers. In the hardest hit areas of New York and New Jersey, these volunteers go from neighborhood to neighborhood to talk to people and help them cope.

Mental health volunteers are also able to refer people to Red Cross health services workers, who do wellness checks and make sure elderly residents are ok. These volunteers also make sure residents have access to any needed medications or equipment.

Even for those Red Cross workers whose official roles lie elsewhere—for example, in driving an emergency response vehicle and handing out hot meals—they too are always ready to provide personal encouragement and support.

Dick McGee, a retired clinical psychologist and Red Cross volunteer, was in Long Beach on Long Island, N.Y., to deliver meals. One of the people he met happened to be Jackie Blessinger, a student studying to be a clinical psychologist. She had put her studies on hold to help her father clean up after the storm.

Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge deposited five feet of ocean water in the living area of Phil Blessinger’s home. “Hurricane Irene last year was annoying,” he said, ”but nothing like this devastation.”

For Jackie Blessinger, McGee’s presence gave her a chance to vent about being away from her studies and talk about her future plans with someone who had decades of experience in her chosen field.

Before returning to the job at hand, Jackie insisted a friend take a picture of her and her dad with their new Red Cross friend. Jackie’s animated enthusiasm also brought a smile back to her father’s face as they resumed the task of cleaning out the house.

Just a brief encounter with a caring Red Cross volunteer helped them take a brief break from their labors and give them renewed confidence that a better day was, in fact, going to come.

How You Can Help

The response to Sandy is likely to be the largest Red Cross response in the U.S. in the past five years. To donate, visit, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Widespread Flooding in Multiple States as Storm Moves North

WASHINGTON, August 28, 2011 – More than 27,000 people spent Saturday night in shelters opened or supported by the American Red Cross as Hurricane Irene moved up the East Coast. The storm is shaping up to become a large flood relief operation and thousands of people across multiple states have already turned to the Red Cross for help.

“Our main focus right now is providing people with a safe place to stay and food to eat,” said Charley Shimanski, senior vice president of Disaster Services for the Red Cross. “There have been mandatory evacuations all along the East Coast and millions are without power because of this hurricane.”

While it is too early to know the full extent of the storm’s damage, the Red Cross expects to be helping people for the next several weeks.

The Red Cross has relief operations ongoing in more than a dozen states and thousands of disaster workers helping people fromNorth CarolinatoNew England. Every Red Cross feeding truck east of theRocky Mountains- more than 250 – are set to go into neighborhoods as soon as conditions permit. Tens of thousands of pre-packaged meals are in position, and the Red Cross is working with its community partners to have feeding kitchens in place after the storm moves through.

“This is a big response involving multiple states and the response will cost millions,” Shimanski said. If people would like to help, they can click or text to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. Donations can be made by visiting or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions can also be sent to someone’s local Red Cross chapter or mailed to the American Red Cross,P.O. Box 37243,Washington,DC20013.

 Irene has already caused the cancellation of more than 50 blood drives, adding up to a loss of approximately 1,500 blood donations along the East Coast. Because each donation can be made into as many as three blood products, this translates to approximately 4,500 blood products not being available for patients who need them. Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), meet height and weight requirements (110 pounds or more, depending on their height), and who are generally in good health may be eligible to donate blood. To schedule an appointment, please call 1-800-RED CROSS or go to

Those affected by the storm can let friends and family know where they are by registering on the Red Cross Safe and Well website at They can also call a family member or friend with internet access and ask them to do their registration.

Red Cross Opening Shelters, Mobilizing Equipment

Residents urged to heed evacuation orders.

Hurricane Irene is headed toward the East Coast and the American Red Cross is mobilizing disaster workers and equipment along much of the eastern seaboard to help those in the path of this powerful storm.

Hurricane Irene is predicted to be the largest storm to hit the East Coast in more than 70 years, and could threaten several big population centers. A hurricane watch has been issued for theNorth Carolinacoast and the Red Cross has opened shelters in the state as evacuation orders go into effect. In addition, more than 200 Red Cross mobile feeding vehicles are heading towards the coast to help people in the path of the storm.

“The Red Cross is moving volunteers, vehicles and supplies, getting ready for a response effort that spans nearly the entire East Coast,” said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross. “While we’re getting ready at the Red Cross, we want everyone in the storm’s path to get ready as well by getting a disaster kit, making a family emergency plan, and listening to local officials regarding evacuations.”

Dozens of shelters are being prepared all along the East Coast. People can find open Red Cross shelters by viewing an interactive Google map at or by downloading the free Red Cross shelter app for their iPhone from the iTunes store. A mobile-friendly version of the Hurricane Safety Checklist is now available for smart phone users to download at

It’s important that those affected by the storm stay in contact with loved ones and the Red Cross Safe and Well website can help them do that. Safe and Well is a secure, easy-to-use online tool to help families connect in an emergency. People can register by visiting the Red Cross web site or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).    

A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions could be a threat within 48 hours. An upgrade to a hurricane warning will mean hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours. Those in the affected area should finish their storm preparations and evacuate if authorities ask them to do so.

Hurricane Irene has caused significant damage in the southern Bahamasand the Bahamas Red Cross is managing shelters and helping people displaced by the storm. A regional disaster management expert is headed to theBahamastoday to assist with disaster assessment and response. In the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers as flooding, damage to homes and impassable roads are left in the storm’s wake. The United Nations is reporting hundreds of homes have been damaged and it is difficult to communicate with many localities.

In addition, Irene could affect blood collections along the East Coast at a time when the nation’s blood supply is already low. The Red Cross is urging those who are eligible to give blood prior to the storm’s arrival. Donating blood now, before the storm, will help ensure blood is available in the aftermath of Irene should conditions prohibit people from traveling to blood collections.

Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission in some states), meet height and weight requirements (110 pounds or more, depending on their height), and who are generally in good health may be eligible to donate blood. To schedule an appointment, please call 1-800-RED CROSS or visit us online at

Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP) members support Red Cross disaster efforts by pledging donations to the Red Cross in advance of major disasters to ensure an immediate response to help people affected. ADGP members responsible for these generous donations include 3M, Altria Group, Aon, Caterpillar, Cisco Foundation , ConAgra Foods , Costco Wholesale Corporation, Darden Restaurants, Inc., Dr Pepper Snapple Group , FedEx Corporation, GE Foundation, The Home Depot Foundation , John Deere Foundation, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Kraft Foods, Lowe’s Companies, Inc., Merck, Morgan Stanley, Nationwide Insurance Foundation, Northrop Grumman, Optum, Ryder Charitable Foundation, Southwest Airlines, State Farm, State Street Foundation, Target, The TJX Companies, Inc., UnitedHealthcare, UPS and Walmart.

American Red Cross disaster preparedness starts long before a hurricane makes landfall, beginning with keeping supplies and equipment on stand-by all year to help people in need. On average, the Red Cross spends about $450 million on disaster relief every year. If someone would like to support Red Cross disaster efforts, they can make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting, calling 1-800-RED CROSS, texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation, or sending contributions to their local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.

 About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation’s blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at