After we arrived in Albany, NY we found a mass of volunteers at the local American Red Cross Chapter office who had arrived form all over the United States and were ready to help. As I toured around the office getting my bearings about me I encountered my favorite not so positive attitude volunteers, which I would be working with for the next week! (See part 1) My new acquaintances were still disgruntled that they had not been told what to do; the only problem I saw with this was that they were not asking what they could do to help, except to keep the chairs they were sitting in from running off.
Time passed by quickly as I was running around trying to help out where I could until my duties from bulk distribution were assigned. Finally, myself and two other volunteers were told to get in the car and drive south to a town that was heavily affected by flooding, and find a 53 foot trailer full of supplies in the middle of a field. You would think that this “treasure hunt” would be pretty easy, big white trailer in the middle of lush green field. However, this proved to be a very difficult task because someone was moving the trailer from one place to another without communicating it to the right people. With the help of some “trailer tracking” locals we found the trailer 30 minutes away in another town. Now our task was to inventory the ominous tunnel of supplies before we started distributing it in the community. We climbed, crawled, jumped, shuffled, and squeezed our way to the back of the trailer. At the end of the day we had inventoried all the supplies, and discovered that trailers that sit in the sun all day become somewhat like the climate of Florida.
Here is a short video that shows what we did:
Throughout the next few days we went to this same location and distributed the clean-up supplies in the trailer to the locals of the community. The flooding damage was a site to behold, it was hard to imagine that at one point the place were you were standing was once over your head in water. The town had some major damage, but the people of the community were stronger than ever. Full or pride; and a drive for getting their small town back to what it once was, the townspeople blew us away with their attitudes.
I Worked with the bulk distribution team for about a week, and learned a lot in the process. However, what was really drawing my interest on the disaster relief operation was doing public affairs; being a marketing major I knew that I would enjoy working on the public affairs team. Public affairs concentrates on the messages that go out to the local media, makes sure that high profile visitors are escorted, controls the spread of rumors and the overall moral of all the volunteers/workers. I cunningly squeezed my way on to the team by showing I could produce the results they were looking for and had a good knowledge of public affairs. For the next week I worked directly with my new supervisor in the field, he was a chapter executive from Georgia, named Jeff. A chapter executive is not someone that you see often on a disaster relief operation; Jeff was there to gain a better understanding of what the Red Cross does on this level and how he could better prepare his region if a disaster ever occurred there. I have a great respect for Jeff and his commitment to the work he does, he taught me a lot of things I will not forget.
We started off working around the Albany area, but while we were in Albany Tropical Storm Lee was pounding the southern part of New York with rain. These rains caused the Susquehanna River to come out of its banks in the city of Binghamton, NY and displace many people. There was a shelter in Binghamton with about 1,600 people in it at one time, which was crazy to see! With direct orders from the supervisors we packed our bags and headed down to Binghamton to help with public affairs there.
During my time in public affairs work I got to work with a lot of cool people as part of my job! First, I got to cover a story in a town hit hard by the flood about how David Britton, the sue chef from the Food Network show “Restaurant Impossible”, was bringing his custom designed pizza making truck “Pies on Wheels” to this town and voluntarily feed the town for free. I went from covering the story, to stretching pizza dough for the rest of the evening. This was really fun because I have always wanted to cook with a chef who was on the food network! Second, I got to stand in on a briefing with Senator Schumer! This was cool just because he was a senator, but I am not really that in to politics so my supervisor had to fill me in on who he was. Along with meeting the high profile peeps, getting out in the community and making sure that the Red Cross was getting publicity in the right way was really fun and I would love to do it again, it will be hard to find that cool of a supervisor again though; thanks Jeff.
This is the picture with the Senator. This is also what my supervisor Jeff would call “strategic placement”
We soon closed out our time in Binghamton and headed back to the “Big Apple!” Our time on the disaster was almost up, so we went to New York City to finish up some things at the headquarters and to take half a day off to explore the city! I am glad that I got to see the city for a short time, but a short time was enough for me. There is always a mass of people everywhere you go; they could be surrounding two completely nude women in the middle of Times Square, who were the canvas for a “modern” artist, or they could be surprisingly quite and somber at the 9/11 memorial. There was a lot to see in a short amount of time, but I think we got it covered pretty well. The last day we drove down to LaGuardia National Airport and flew back to where we had come!
If there is one thing that I took away from this deployment it was the “Red Cross F-Word”, which is “Flexibility!” Being flexible is one thing that is key when you work for the Red Cross because there are a lot of people involved in making many ever changing decisions. Unfortunately, this was the end of my New York deployment, next is the Pennsylvania deployment!