Written by Anna Kate Twitty, Regional Communications Officer, American Red Cross, Columbia Region
If you had asked me what I was thankful for a month ago, I would have given you an answer like this: “I am thankful for my husband, my family, my friends and all of the amazing opportunities that surround me each and every day.” I would still include these wonderful blessings in my response, but today my answer would include so much more as my perspective on life has changed in a few short weeks.
After seeing first-hand the devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy, I now know what it is like to see pure heartbreak, communities destroyed, dreams shattered and hard work depleted in one night. Through all the devastation that I saw, one thing was constant –people have so much hope and resiliency. Before Sandy, I had personally never seen the amount of compassion and humanity that are within people and among communities.
I had the great honor to deploy for nine days to represent the American Red Cross in New York. I met people from all walks of life and spent time at Red Cross shelters, at fixed feeding sites, at mobile kitchens and on mobile feeding routes in highly affected neighborhoods.
I will never forget riding with our volunteers on a mobile feeding truck through the cold and flooded streets of Long Beach, N.Y. Homes were destroyed by severe flooding, cars had been washed away to random locations, waterlogged furniture and other belongings pilled the streets and people were left with no power and heat.
While on a Long Beach food route, one woman made an everlasting impact on me when she looked me in the eye and asked the simple question, “Why are you helping me?” My answer was immediate, “because it’s the right thing to do.” Once I told her that I had traveled 750 miles from South Carolina to New York, she was shocked and tears filled her eyes while she hugged and thanked me.
She told me her personal story and showed me her destroyed home. In addition to listening to her, I gave her a turkey sandwich and an apple for lunch. From her reaction and gratitude, you would have thought that I had given her a million dollars. I think the most important thing that I gave her was hope and reassurance that the Red Cross was there to help.
I had similar encounters while spending time at a Red Cross shelter at Nassau Community College on Long Island, N.Y. I met people who profoundly moved me and people who had lost everything, but had so much to be grateful for. I met Red Cross volunteers that were personally affected by Sandy’s devastation, yet continued to volunteer their time to help others.
I was able to witness partnership and community giving at its best at one of the Red Cross mobile kitchen’s in Deer Park, N.Y. The Red Cross has an amazing partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention, where together thousands of meals are prepared each day and delivered to neighborhoods hit hard by Sandy.
Through my nine day experience, I can whole heartily say that I am thankful this Thanksgiving for the Red Cross and the massive relief efforts that began before Sandy made landfall and that will continue for weeks and months to come. More specifically, I am thankful for the following:
- The 5,300 volunteers that have deployed from all 50 states to help
- The over 100 volunteers that have deployed from South Carolina to help
- The more than 300 feeding trucks that are delivering meals, snacks and relief supplies
- The more than 6.7 million meals and snacks that have been served
- The shelters that have been open since before Sandy hit that have provided over 149,000 overnight stays
- The 78,000 health services and emotional support contacts that have been made
- The various organizations and community groups that are working together with the Red Cross to help thousands each day
- The generosity of the American people to open their hearts and donate millions of dollars to the Red Cross
- The husbands, wives, children, relatives, friends, co-workers that are supporting Red Cross volunteers while they spend countless hours away from their homes and work helping others
I am thankful that I am part of the Red Cross and that I get to see each and every day the important work that this organization does for so many. The Red Cross works around-the-clock preparing and responding to disasters like Sandy. Last but not least, I am thankful for the volunteers and staff that will be spending their Thanksgiving holiday away from home providing relief to thousand affected by Sandy in the Northeast. These volunteers and staff are giving the greatest gift one can give – the gift of time.