As a massive relief effort along the East Coast in response to superstorm Sandy moves into high gear, a small group of northwest Missouri volunteers have placed themselves in the thick of efforts to aid those forced from their homes.
Kevin Kirby, executive director of the Midland Empire Chapter of the American Red Cross, said that a five-member team, including two people from the Maryville area, arrived at staging areas in New York and New Jersey early this week.
The two Nodaway County volunteers are Shoba Brown of Maryville and Hopkins resident Janet Crane. Kirby said the two women left for Middletown, N.Y., on Saturday, making the 1,222-mile trip in the chapter's emergency response vehicle.
As the storm moved inland, Brown and Crane were helping to screen evacuees and find shelter for people fleeing heavily damaged neighborhoods along the coast. They also used their specially equipped vehicle to distribute relief supplies and transport food to emergency kitchens.
Reached by cell phone Tuesday morning, Brown said the two women arrived in Middletown in Orange County, N.Y., on Monday, having driven through strong winds and heavy rain. After spending Monday and Tuesday delivering food to shelters in and around Middletown, Brown said she was being sent to Long Island along with an 18-wheeler load of military-style instant meals.
Though too far inland to see much of the storm's worst damage, Brown said she and Crane encountered numerous downed power lines and tree limbs, adding that many communities well to the west of New York City were without power. The lights in Middletown, however, which is serving as a staging hub for much of the state, have remained on.
"We just got here and hit the ground running," Brown said. "As soon as we arrived it was 'do this and do that.'"
As for the other members of the northwest Missouri team, Joe Sorrento, St. Joseph, is in Princeton, N.J., helping run a mass food service operation, and Robert Gergeni, St. Joseph, and William King, Stewartville, are in Albany, N.Y., operating a pair of evacuation shelters.
Sorrento reported that, as of Tuesday, 47,000 people were living in shelters in New Jersey alone.
Only a small group of volunteers was sent from this area because airports along the coast were forced to close, making access difficult. Due to the huge amount of devastation expected, however, the Midland Empire Red Cross is seeking additional volunteers able to deploy when air travel resumes.
Prospective relief workers wishing to take the required one-day training must be in good health with no medical issues, Kirby said. They must also pass a background check and be willing to deploy for two to three weeks. The next training class will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, at the American Red Cross building, 401 N. 12th Street, in St. Joseph.
The class provides an introduction to disaster services and shelter operations.
Volunteers should understand that they may be called upon to work long hours in areas without electricity while sleeping on shelter floors or cots.
Kirby said the storm is expected to affect as many as 60 million people in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
"This storm is dangerous," he said. "Midland Empire communities will do their part to help, both with volunteers and donations, to help the families recover."
One thing northwest Missouri residents wishing to help should not do, Kirby said, is start collecting clothing and supplies for shipment to the East Coast. Without the right kind of logistics support, he said, such donations are apt to end up sitting outside in the rain or getting trucked to a landfill.
"We never want people to collect supplies," he said. "That creates a second disaster."
The best way to lend a hand, Kirby said, is through a financial gift to the Red Cross, which is providing shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance.
Anyone wishing to donate should go to www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Contributions may also be mailed to 401 N. 12th Street, St. Joseph, MO, 64501.