Language Not A Barrier with Red Cross Help

Story and Photo by Greta Gustafson/American Red Cross

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Calvin Lee (r) with Yong Qiang Liang and Cai Juan Deug in front of artwork by their two children, ages 6 and 9.

 

The American Red Cross works hard to touch every family that has been affected by a disaster. When the Red Cross came across a Chinese-American community in Goldsboro, N.C. that needed a little extra help with the recovery process, they called upon Calvin Lee, a bilingual Red Crosser from Kansas.

Lee originally came to North Carolina as tech support for the operation, but as he was leaving the relief effort he was recruited to help these particular families due to his fluency in Mandarin and Cantonese.

“I extended my stay here to help those families,” said Lee. “Translating for them to help them apply to FEMA and help work through other aspects of the disaster.”

Lee is an immigrant from Hong Kong himself, and understands how challenging it can be for people who come to the United States without speaking the language. One of the seven families he has spent time helping just came to the country about four months ago and speak minimal English.

When asked his largest frustration during the floods, Yong Qiang Liang said, “the language barrier.” “We felt helpless,” added his wife, Cai Juan Deug.

“I’m trying to be there all the time,” Lee said on his work with the community. “Be their friend and also be their caseworker so I can help them.”

And, with Lee’s help, this family of four was able to receive financial aid from FEMA to repair their home and move forward following Hurricane Matthew.

“We are very thankful to Calvin and to the Red Cross,” said Cai Juan Deug.

 

Twelve Years-Old and Already Making a Difference

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Red Cross delivers donated food to Make A Difference Food Pantry, founded by Mackenzie Hinson.

Story and photos by Greta Gustafson/American Red Cross

Mackenzie “Kenzie” Hinson is doing more for her community at 12 years-old than most people do in a lifetime. One week before her 11th birthday, Hinson founded Make a Difference Food Pantry in Goldsboro, N.C. after making a speech at 4H on the hunger problem in her community.

“I wanted to give people choice,” said Hinson

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Hinson in front of her office door at Make a Difference Food Pantry

on how her pantry is different than others. The Make a Difference Food Pantry is set up like a grocery store, allowing people the freedom to select what they need and want.

 

The American Red Cross is partnering with Hinson’s Make a Difference Food Pantry to help distribute the food donations, that were given to the Red Cross, out into the community to those in need. Hinson visited the Red Cross warehouse to select the items she thought her thousands of recipients could utilize most.

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Kinzie scans the Red Cross warehouse determining which donated items to have delivered to her pantry.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store!” she exclaimed, skipping through the warehouse, picking out pallets of cereal, nuts and fruit snacks. Hinson may have business savvy beyond her years, but she still has the energy of a child.

 

Hinson’s mom, Paige Dixon Hinson, believes one of the reasons her daughter’s nonprofit does so well is because of her child-like optimism and firm belief everything will work out. Hinson’s personality shows through in her pantry, with its bright colors and hand-painted signs

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Make a Difference Food Pantry is set up like a grocery store.

The thousands of snacks the Red Cross is working with Hinson to distribute will go directly back to Wayne County community members in need through her weekly distributions, home cooked meals, the Back Pack Buddy Kids and the Senior Mobile Pantry programs.

Both Mackenzie and her mom agreed that disasters may be terrible, but they really bring communities together, provide the opportunity to forge new partnerships, and showcase the generosity of the American people.

 

 

 

Helping Kids Cope with Disaster

Story and photos by Greta Gustafson/American Red Cross

Annamarie Gallagher has always wanted to serve with the American Red Cross, and when a disaster hit her home state of North Carolina, she decided to make it happen. For the past week, Gallagher has been in a shelter in Goldsboro to provide Disaster Mental Health support.

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Gallagher talks with Najada,6, about her day at school. Najada is staying with her family at the shelter in Goldsboro, NC

“I feel like I’m really starting to get to know people, which is the good and the hard part because you have to know their stories so you know what kind of resources they need, but then you really get invested,” said Gallagher. “You really want things to turnaround for them.”

For many of the residents, they have been in shelters following Hurricane Matthew for nearly a month. Gallagher focuses on providing a safe space for people to let out their frustrations before sitting down to discuss what’s next.

Gallagher, mother to a one and three-year-old, is especially moved by the children in the shelter. She reflects on the 18-month year old who runs around the shelter like it is her house because she doesn’t know any different, and the 6 year-old who tells her about the snake that came into her living room because of the water.

While in the shelter, the county has made sure the children are still able to attend school and have that normal routine to ground them. Gallagher, and the rest of the Red Cross shelter staff, try to have activities, such as coloring and sidewalk chalk, every evening when they return to provide a personal space that is usually hard to come by both at school and in a shelter.

“The only thing a child really wants is to see somebody’s eye light up when they’re in the room,” said Gallagher on how she connects with the kids. “I want to know about them, and having an adult who’s interested in those parts of their world is just amazing for them.”

However, Gallagher truly finds her inspiration in these children. “We as adults can learn a lot from them, we really can,” said Gallagher. “About resilience, about joy, about having a good attitude in really not so great circumstances.”

Gallagher is also there for the Red Cross volunteers, who have been working tirelessly

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Gallagher gets a hug from one of the children living at the shelter in Golsdboro, NC.

since the hurricane hit. She gives them the same advice she gives the residents: try to find a space for yourself, even if it’s just for a moment or two. She encourages volunteers to not get discouraged by what is directly in front of them, but to see the larger picture and know they are making a difference.

“I just hope anybody who loves to serve, and anybody who loves to take care of people can go out with the Red Cross sometime,” said Gallagher, “because it’s an amazing experience.”

Red Cross Volunteer Teaches The Pillowcase Project in Shelter

Story and photos by Greta Gustafson/American Red Cross

On her 17th Red Cross deployment, volunteer Sonia Johnson is taking extra care of the children in the Goldsboro, N.C. shelter. Johnson tries to do an activity with the kids every night, from coloring and crafts to The Pillowcase Project, a Red Cross disaster preparedness activity.

“It started in a shelter, why not bring it to a shelter?” said Johnson of teaching The Pillowcase Project to the kids. The disaster preparedness course targeted towards children began after college students carried their belongings to Red Cross

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Johnson discusses disaster preparedness dressed as Wonder Woman.

shelters in pillowcases during Hurricane Katrina. The program now teaches students grades 3-5 about personal and family preparedness and safety skills, local hazards, and basic coping skills.

 

Though Johnson had to alter the program a bit to fit kids who were in the middle of a disaster instead of preparing for one, she said it was very beneficial in getting the children to begin sharing their stories.

One child told Johnson, “We lost our home because the water came in it,” and another nine-year old girl talked about not going back home because the house was condemned, fully understanding the meaning of the word long before her time.

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Kids color their disaster pillowcases.

Johnson believed this open conversation was an important first step in the healing process for these kids she cares about so deeply.

 

“These kids are always going to be in my heart,” said Johnson affectionately. “I am always going to remember these kids.”

Grateful parishioner returns the favor

By Ekland Durousseau, American Red Cross Public Affairs

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From right: Maria Cardenas with her two daughters Michelle, 11 and Yaritzel, 4 and best friend Jesenia Sanchez.

It’s close to 6 o’clock and the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) feeding team is about to hand out the last meal of the day at Iglesias Pentecostal Vino Nuevo, a church along their feeding route. A car pulls up and like so many before them, a family of four get out and walk toward the ERV but this time instead of taking food they are giving.

Marcial Sanchez, pastor of Iglesias Pentecostal Vino Nuevo, sent word to his parishioners that if anyone was still in need their church was on a Red Cross feeding truck route and hot meals would be provided. Maria Cardenas got the message but had no need for the service. Her home sustained no water damage and the power had been restored to her neighborhood. She was grateful the Red Cross was helping her community and thought she could contribute in a similar way by cooking one big meal a couple of times a week and bringing it to the church as a supplemental feeding. This night however, her dishes were a little heavier. She asked the ERV team if they would walk to her car because she wanted to show them something.

Opening the trunk of her car, Maria uncovered an enormous container, releasing a cloud of aromatic steam that filled the air with a roasted corn aroma. Stuffed within the pot lay large homemade tamales.  When the oohs and ahhs died down Maria smiled and said “Because you shared with us I want to share with you. Thank you for helping my community.”

Keeping it All in the Family

Story and photos by Bill Fortune/American Red Cross

SSgt Adrian Guerrero carried a large box full of donated items from the shelter to a large

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Adrian Guerrero and son, Isaiah, carry boxes filled with in-kind donations from Westover shelter to a truck that will carry them to a warehouse for further distribution.

truck. He joked and laughed as he carried the load, obviously enjoying the work and clearly enjoying the feeling he gets from helping others. Guerrero is originally from El Paso, TX and currently stationed at Fort Bragg. His career with the U.S. Army is nearing an end and he is very proud of his service. “I’m an HR [Human Resources] manager who has jumped out of perfectly good airplanes,” Guerrero said as he lifted another box. His attitude and humor were infectious and spread throughout the other workers.

SSgt Guerrero and his son Isaiah (19) have been helping the people affected by Hurricane Mathew since before landfall, driving in heavy rain and high water to deliver food and supplies to shelters. They have stayed with the response working every spare hour. “I like to help and so does my son,” he said. “It’s great when we can work together and see that it makes a difference.”

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The Guerrero family, Adrian(l), Corina and Isaiah helping at Westover shelter in Fayetteville.

Guerrero’s wife, Corina, is also a volunteer for the Red Cross. She had moved back to El Paso pending Adrian’s retirement to enroll their daughter in high school. When the storm hit she knew she had to help and quickly returned to North Carolina. Corina has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than four years. She began with the Service to Armed Forces program in Italy and when they returned to the states she continued as a disaster responder. Since she has been back in North Carolina the family has been extremely busy. “My son was hoping I would come back and cook for him,” she said with a tinge of guilt. “So far I have only been able to do that one time.”

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Adrian and his son carry a cot loaded with in kind donations at the Westover shelter in Fayetteville.

Despite being busy every day helping others the family is close and it was pretty clear they all care deeply about the Red Cross mission. It’s also clear that the Red Cross is proud to have them on our team.

If you would like to be part of the Red Cross just go to redcross.org and click on VOLUNTEER. Don’t have time and still want to support the Red Cross? Go to the same website and click on DONATE.

Truck drivers of the Red Cross

By Ekland Durousseau, American Red Cross Public Affairs

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Robert “Spike” Dominic Ventura

During the span of a day Robert Dominic Ventura is called many names. His nametag says Robert, but he introduces himself as Dominic. His friends call him Bear but his Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) crew call him Spike. What does he prefer? “I got all sorts of nicknames,” said Ventura. “On the bus I’m Bear, on the ERV I’m Spike. Call me whatever you need to. I’ll answer to anything.”

Ventura is a bit of a free spirit. He got together with several of his friends and renovated a large school bus, christening it “The Skallywagon”. This year they decided to travel the country exploring various cities and campgrounds. When they heard about the hurricane disaster they knew they wanted to help. All of them had skills that could be useful to relief and recovery and this was a perfect opportunity to use them. They packed tree supplies to do free tree work and went to food pantries to gather food and bottled water but they had trouble finding affected areas.

One morning they happened to pass the Red Cross North Carolina Greenville chapter and thought it would be a great place to find the information they needed. By the end of the day everyone on the bus had signed up to be a Red Cross volunteer. From there they were assigned various tasks. Ventura started out in mass distribution, moved on to a warehouse assignment and when that finished, he did shelter uptake and takedown and now he is in feeding and he likes it the best.

“When you are in the warehouse you know it’s going somewhere and it’s doing something good for somebody but you don’t actually get to see it face to face. When you are out here feeding people, you get to see them appreciate it, hear the thank you and see it make an impact,” said Ventura.

Two weeks ago Ventura didn’t know anyone on the ERV team, now they all feel like family. “It’s just a hodgepodge of all different types of lifestyles and creeds just slammed into one van and we all have a good time with it, “ said Ventura.

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The ERV team (left to right) Ventura, Salterella, Mendoza and Hoffman.

Michael Hoffman, Mario Mendoza and Jennifer Salterella complete the ERV family.

The crew is led by Hoffman, a former police chief from Maryland. A highlight of his Red Cross experience has been reaching out to a community that is not well represented. “I truly care about the people,” he said. “The people that can’t get the help, or won’t come out and get the help for one reason or another.” Hoffman believes his crew is more than capable of accomplishing this task and feels the atmosphere on the ERV is almost like a party, simply because everyone brings something different to the table. “Because our crew is so diverse we have the ability to reach every spectrum of client from the elderly, middle aged, educated youth, and the very young,” said Hoffman.

Mendoza deployed shortly after Hurricane Matthew made landfall driving an ERV all the way from San Antonio, Texas to North Carolina.

When he realized the Hispanic population along their route were not aware of the services the Red Cross provides he impressed upon his crew the need to educate and distribute information. “We want the Hispanic community to know that we are here,” he said “And that we will be here until the end.” Mendoza made great strides in fulfilling his mission when his crew befriended the pastor at Iglesias Pentecostal Vino Nuevo in Snow Hill, North Carolina. Mendoza believes gaining the trust of respected community leaders will prove to be vital in helping an underserved community.

Salterella, a teacher in Atlanta, has been a volunteer since 2008 but for her, the Red Cross is a family affair. Her brother is a longtime volunteer and this year her mother was awarded volunteer of the year in Atlanta.

As a teacher, Salterella is the kid connection in this crew. “I am special education teacher with a focus on autism,” she said. “I specialize in autism because I have autism. I teach kids how to cope with a disorder I have learned to cope with.” Of all the jobs she has had working on a disaster her favorite is being an ERV feeding crew member.

“Being on the ERV is a bit like being a truck driver,” Salterella said with a chuckle. “The truck drivers of the Red Cross, caravanning from place to place out in the community, free spirted and mobile. We are like a roving band of gypsies. Little family groups in our little wagons and we just roll. “