Most Del Norters will be putting the finishing touches on their Thanksgiving feasts today, but Charlie Wick's job will just be starting.
The Crescent City resident flew out of Medford and landed at JFK International Airport in New York City on Wednesday. Today she'll go where the American Red Cross needs her to help thousands of East Coast residents who have lost their homes and businesses to Superstorm Sandy.
Wick will be volunteering with the organization's Public Affairs department, but, she added, she'll go where they send her. In addition to helping the Red Cross keep the media and public apprised of the disaster relief effort in New York and New Jersey, Wick said she'll also help storm victims access the assistance they need from the right organization.
"Sometimes it's confusing," she said, speaking on the phone from Salt Lake City, where she was waiting for a connector flight. "People don't really understand sometimes that there are different organizations that do different things. The Red Cross is kind of an emergency program. We help get people settled, we help give them temporary shelter, feed them, different things like that depending on different disasters. But people need to know what to expect from whatever organization is there. That's what a PA (public affairs volunteer) would do is make sure that people know where to go so they feel secure."
Wick is one of three Del Norte County residents who have left the North Coast to help with disaster relief. The others, Crescent City residents Robin Payne and Michael Clark, drove a Red Cross emergency response vehicle to New York. They are now in Island Park, a town on the south shore of Long Island, according to Jennifer Jones, regional disaster services director for the American Red Cross' California-Northwest region.
Some 46 volunteers from Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, Napa, Humboldt and Del Norte counties have been deployed to the East Coast, Jones said. Nationwide, the Red Cross has mobilized more than 11,000 people who are working in shelters, providing food and driving through neighborhoods distributing meals and supplies.
Volunteers are even helping storm victims get in the spirit of the holiday by dropping off ice chests filled with the fixings for a Thanksgiving feast, Jones said.
"Every time we read this our jaw drops," she said, referring to the number of Red Cross workers who have been deployed and are currently in the field. "We're doing our part, but there's just so much need out there."
As of Tuesday night, 500 people were staying in nine shelters, Jones said. Initially the organization had sent volunteers to areas as far south as West Virginia and as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island, but they are now primarily in New York and New Jersey.
Payne and Clark began driving the cross-country drive Nov. 3, according to an organization press release. When they arrived in snowy Philadelphia they joined a caravan of Red Cross vehicles all making their way to New York and New Jersey.
Payne works 12-hour days, passing out food, water and supplies to residents whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by the hurricane.
"There's tons of sand everywhere and houses have 7 feet of water in them," she told the Red Cross. "Half of the people have power only on their second floors and quite a few houses have caught fire just from turning the power on."
Sending local volunteers to help with the aftermath of a disaster like Superstorm Sandy helps prepare them for a disaster closer to home, Jones said. The Red Cross is risking being short-staffed right now to allow local volunteers to gain much-needed experience, she said. Many volunteers will be asked to conduct emergency response classes when they return to Northern California, Jones said.
"We don't want anything shaking or quaking right now, but we sent so many people elsewhere because I want them to get this experience," she said. "I can't teach that in a class."
Wick, who has worked with the Red Cross for 15 years, has volunteered following tornadoes in Corpus Christi, Texas, and wildfires in San Diego. Her most recent deployment was to Baton Rouge, La., following Hurricane Katrina, where she managed a shelter. She said she anticipates seeing scenes similar to the aftermath of Katrina wherever she ends up volunteering this time.
"People lost their homes. Businesses were lost," she said, adding that she expects to be volunteering for at least 21 days. "There's an economic value that was lost here. It was the same in New Orleans. There was a lot of economic devastation as well and here you have it too."
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .