The old adage that it's better to give was exercised by several area residents.
Recently, the Southwestern New York American Red Cross proudly announced that 11 residents from Southwestern New York volunteered to be deployed to areas devastated by Superstorm Sandy, with one volunteer being deployed twice.
Local volunteers who were deployed include: Sarah and Bruce Sawnson, Janice Deavis, Mary Jane Covley Walker, Phil Baker, Bill Tucker, Jeanie Shiffer, and Charlie Meder.
Pictured above, from left, are Tina Jones, American Red Cross of Southwestern New York emergency services director; Nancy Pickut and Jeanie Shiffer. Standing, from left, are Sarah and Bruce Swanson, Walt Pickut, Mary Walker, Charlie Meder, Mary Ritchie, Phil Baker and Bill Tucker.
Overall, more than 14,000 Red Cross volunteers nationally were deployed. According to Bill Tucker, executive director of the Southwestern New York American Red Cross, many of those volunteers signed up for deployment without ever thinking twice.
"We never know when these storms are approaching, especially something like this and the way it was forecasted, how strong the damage will be and how far inland it will go," said Tucker. "Last year, New York City was bracing for hurricane Irene. Instead, the city didn't really get hit but it did major damage around Binghamton and as far north as Vermont. Superstorm Sandy was forecast to dump a bunch of rain on us here, but most of the damage was around New York City. These volunteers don't know where or when they're going to be deployed, but they're willing to go whenever and wherever. It's an extraordinarily selfless thing they do."
And even though Tucker is the executive director of the local Red Cross, he volunteered to be deployed to New York City as well.
"I was deployed as a volunteer, rather than a Red Cross employee," said Tucker. "I was a shelter associate - what that means is I worked for the shelter supervisor doing whatever needed to be done for our clients. We want to give them a warm, safe place to sleep and stay, food to eat, water to drink - we have nurses around the clock and disaster mental health counselor for those who have lost everything and don't know how to cope with it."
Tucker was stationed on Deer Park in Long Island for 10 days during the aftermath of Sandy. During his time at the shelter, he worked with nearly 140 clients and was on call nearly 24 hours a day.
"We opened the shelter the day before the storm hit and went for 10 days before it was consolidated with another shelter," said Tucker. "I was always at the shelter, so I didn't see how the storm devastated the area, but I saw plenty of how the storm devastated the people in the shelter. ... I spoke with people who had lost everything and the only thing they had left was the gym bag they carried with them to the shelter. These people worried whether they would lose their jobs because they had to leave the area they were staying in to find shelter - concerns like that."
And even though Tucker and the Red Cross helped those in need, he said that the people of the city did everything they could to help out their fellow neighbors when they could, as well.
"Those who could would bring things to the shelter to help those who were staying there," said Tucker. "People would bring bottles of water, restaurants would donate hot meals, people would bring in boxes of pizza - anything that would make the stay a bit easier for those who were there."
Even though Tucker was deployed as a volunteer, not as a Red Cross employee, he was still a part of the minority with regard to the fact that he was affiliated with the Red Cross. The majority of the volunteers who were deployed, such as Mary Jane Covley Walker, were volunteers who were either retired or took time off from work to be deployed as part of the Superstorm Sandy relief effort.
"I worked on the west New Jersey coast," said Covley Walker. "I mostly went door-to-door to find out what people needed. My last week out there I spent on a Red Cross hotline call center in northern New Jersey where people called either to donate or call for relief."
Covley Walker retired less than a year-and-a-half ago, and found herself wanting to help people with the free time she now had.
Covley Walker is no rookie when it comes to disaster deployment. In the year-and-a-half she's been a Red Cross volunteer, she's already been deployed twice before Sandy: once for hurricane Isaac and once for hurricane Irene.
And just like her two deployments before, she saw plenty of neighbors practicing altruism throughout New Jersey while she was deployed for Sandy.
"I helped out a gentleman who was living in his car while his home was being repaired from the hurricane," said Covley Walker. "His neighbor happened to overhear our conversation and told the gentleman, 'I could give you an apartment for a little while.' I don't know if he took him up on the offer, but it was certainly a kind thing to offer. Honestly, everyone just wanted to help out as much as they could. I saw three churches of different denominations work together during the disaster. One church offered breakfast, one offered dinner, and one offered cleaning supplies. It was pretty inspirational."
Of course, as much as the Red Cross would have liked to have deployed every single volunteer who was willing to go to aid in recovery from Sandy, the erratic nature of disasters necessitated that some volunteers stay back in case another disaster were to occur locally.
"I coordinate local Red Cross volunteers and resources and make sure that our local disaster responder still had enough volunteers here," said Jones. "I had to make sure not to let all of those who were able to go go, in case an emergency developed here."
To an extent, an emergency did develop locally, however it was also Sandy related. Due to expected rising lake levels, a non-mandatory evacuation of Sunset Bay was declared. In response, the Red Cross set up an evacuation shelter in Silver Creek.
"We kept an eye on (Sunset Bay) just in case we would need to evacuate its residents and set up a shelter," said Jones. "I don't think any of us slept that weekend, because we needed to keep a constant eye on weather forecasts and act on a moment's notice."
For their work during the recover of hurricane Sandy, the local Red Cross volunteers were recently treated to a lunch in their honor.