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ST. MARYS — A local Red Cross official recently returned to St. Marys after a two-week stint helping with the recovery efforts on the East Coast in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Red Cross of Auglaize County Chapter Director Ken Cline left for New York shortly after the devastating storm left its mark on the East Coast. Cline spent much of his time in the Rockaways, which was among the hardest hit regions of New York.
“One thing that stuck out in my mind was just the devastation,” Cline told The Evening Leader. “Everyone saw it on TV and how bad it was ... It definitely had an impact on me.”
During his first week in New York, Cline worked as a paramedic on teams that were sent door-to-door in the affected area. The teams administered first aid to storm victims — many who did not evacuate their homes before the storm hit.
“I don’t know why, but a lot of them stayed and said they were going to ride out the storm,” Cline said. “I can tell you that there wasn’t one of them who said the next time that they would evacuate.”
Many of the residences lacked power and heat weeks after the storm hit. Residents often told Cline they did not want to leave their homes because they feared looters.
For his second week, Cline worked in bulk distribution — which entailed delivering items throughout the region for distribution as shelters and other drop-off locations.
“We were in teams of two — a driver and a navigator,” Cline said. “We’d drive from headquarters to Jersey City in a truck and then to the Rockaways ... It was a little frustrating because we spent almost all our time in a vehicle and not handing out supplies. We also spent two days in Brooklyn driving from shelter to shelter.”
Despite the long hours and hard work, Cline said his deployment was one of the most rewarding things he’s ever done.
“I was able to help with people and reconnect those who thought they lost family members,” Cline said. “It was rewarding and one of the things the Red Cross does is provide a shoulder to lean on and just someone to listen to their stories. Those people are really suffering and will probably do so for a long time. A lot will probably be homeless from this.”
Returning home to a residence with power and heat — and in time for Thanksgiving — put new meaning into the holidays for Cline.
“I am obviously much more thankful for what I have now,” Cline said. “I think we get complacent some times and we complain about the dumbest things, and to go out there, it’s a reality check and we realize we have nothing to complain about. At the bulk distribution centers, there were people who were lined up for five blocks just to get a meal and cleaning supplies.”
The need for assistance remains great. To date, the Red Cross has served 6.7 million meals and snacks and handed out more than 4 million relief items ranging from cleaning supplies to blankets. As the relief process continues, the cost will increase. According to information provided by the Red Cross, the organization has spent between $60 and $70 million as part of its disaster response. That cost is expected to exceed $100 million.
“Really the best thing local people can do, if they have the means, is to make a monetary contribution,” Cline said.
As of Tuesday, the Red Cross has amassed $158 million in donations and pledges. Contributions also continue to flow into the organization. Residents can donate by visiting RedCross.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS or texting REDCROSS 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Monetary gifts allow the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by the storm.
Cline noted the residents receiving assistance were grateful for the hundreds of volunteers who poured into the region in the aftermath of the storm.
“I’ve never been blessed so many times,” Cline said. “About every other person would say, ‘God bless you.’ You could tell that they appreciated the help.”