Thursday November 1, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Bonnie Dickey breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday morning when she woke up in Brattleboro and realized that Hurricane Sandy had largely spared Vermont.

She made some calls, realized that her home and nearby friends were safe, and then she got ready to do what she did the last time a major storm hit the United States; she made preparations to get in a bus and go down to serve where the need was greatest

Dickey is a trained American Red Cross volunteer, and after the call went out that volunteers were needed around the New York-New Jersey region Dickey decided to offer her help.

She joined seven other Vermont volunteers Wednesday who drove south to a communications center in White Plains, N.Y., where she would receive information on where she was going to work over the next few days.

"We all watched the news reports and I knew it was bad. I knew there were going to be people who needed help," she said Wednesday after arriving in New York. "I knew I was going to go, so I waited for a call and when it came I was ready."

This is the second time in as many months that Dickey served in a Red Cross shelter outside of Vermont after she went down to Louisiana in September to assist communities that were affected by Hurricane Isaac.

Isaac slammed the Gulf Coast on Aug. 28, one year after Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont.

Dickey, who moved to Brattleboro about two years ago and is retired, said the experience in Louisiana was fulfilling.


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"To be able to give food to a mother whose children are starving is very rewarding. It was a joy," she said. "Feeding people who are hungry is about as good as it gets."

Vermont and New Hampshire Valley American Red Cross Spokesman Doug Bishop said the local chapter was preparing for Hurricane Sandy for almost a week.

Shelters across the region were set up with supplies, and local volunteers were notified that smaller, community shelters might be needed if the storm damage was extensive.

When it became apparent Tuesday that there was not a great need in Vermont and New Hampshire, Bishop said he started to answer to the growing cry that was coming out of the New York and New Jersey area.

"When you see people at a shelter with a Red Cross jacket or shirt, about 90 percent of them are volunteers," Bishop said. "Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Red Cross. We would not exist without them."

Bishop said he began to get calls Tuesday from the Mid-Atlantic region asking for volunteers to come down to help. Some are working in shelters, handing out food and supplies, while others are needed for more specialized mental health and medical help.

"Once the calls goes out for volunteers we determine what is needed and then make local calls to see who can go," Bishop said. "We identify who is trained and then we see who we have who can fit that need."

All of the volunteers have received training, and some have broader experience than others for the more specialized work that is needed during a disaster.

Even as it has responded to Sandy’s initial destruction, the American Red Cross continued Wednesday to ramp up its operations across the Atlantic seaboard.

On Monday, the day of the storm, 11,000 people spent the night in more than 250 Red Cross shelters in 16 states.

By Wednesday about 1,700 disaster workers from all over the country were working in emergency shelters, while others, like Dickey, boarded buses and headed down to the stricken region.

The two buses from Vermont traveled the length of the state Wednesday and left Brattleboro at around 1 p.m.

Bishop said more volunteers from Vermont could be heading down to New York in the coming days.

"Last year, when our region was devastated by Irene, we were fortunate to have Red Cross volunteers from across the country come here to lend a helping hand," said Larry Crist, regional executive for the Vermont and New Hampshire Upper Valley American Red Cross. "We are happy to have this group of dedicated and compassionate volunteers from our region head to those areas that are now in the shadow of Hurricane Sandy’s impact."

The American Red Cross is looking for financial help as it continues to help the people in the Mid-Atlantic region, and around the rest of the East Coast.

The group also said Wednesday that more than 300 blood drives in 14 states have been canceled in the affected region and blood was needed.

For more information go to www.redcrossblood.org, www.redcross.org or call 800-Red-Cross.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.