Deployed: Jarrett Barrios

American Red Cross of Eastern MA CEO Jarrett Barrios is writing about his deployment to the areas of NY hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.

We all have a calling in life, no?  I write this from a small area outside the staff shelter in Old Westbury, Long Island.  There are 200 or so volunteers asleep in the gymnasium, each one with a life, a family, perhaps a mortgage and the creature comforts they have left behind to be here.  What calls them to this?

New York headquarters: a beacon on 49th Street

Well, after waking up in Manhattan, I snuck in an amazing run through a storm-damaged Central Park at dawn.  In the weird, half-light of the dawn, the snow from Tuesday’s Nor’easter seemed to dust all the yellow and green fields with a gray powder.  Everything was gray or lost in shadows.  With all the forking paths and old buildings, it felt like I had marched back into one of Grimm’s fairytales.

Up and out of the temporary hotel by 7 am, I was in a briefing by 730 am at the New York headquarters  The central focus:  we were preparing for a massive weekend push to distribute bulk goods to needy communities most heavily impacted by the storm.  But I had a lot to catch up on.  Beyond reading the papers and the Red Cross briefings, I needed to learn the geography, the names, the sector leads and political issues.  I was there to learn, and boy was it—and still is—a steep learning curve.  By mid-morning, I was in the thick of it.  One of the most impacted areas was Nassau County, Long Island.  The geographic separateness of Long Island contributed to a sense of disconnection from headquarters.  Scott Graham asked me to help bridge that gap, and I agreed to relocate to the Mineola office.

Jeanne Cristiano, my amazing admin by day, had deployed to New York the previous week.  She was there helping people with logistics, and helped me enormously now.  You see, I needed a car with a tank full of gas to got there—something easier said than done.  She managed to find one for me and soon I was tooling down I-95 then the Long Island Expressway.

The national team: Donna Diviney, Amy Gabriel and me

The rest of the very, very long day was spent plugging into the bulk distribution operation already under way.   Amazing set of characters I met, including a disaster assessment team that surveyed more than 35,000 destroyed homes.  35,000!  A feisty volunteer operation coordinated by a women named Debbie Gibbons.  Amy Gabriel and Donna Diviney where volunteers from Red Cross headquarters helping to coordinate and support emergency response.  I wrapped it all up by about 830 pm, and then made the effort to find the “shelter in the woods” as it was referred to.  Remarkably, my GPS got me where I needed to be in under 20 minutes—with only one (rather scenic) wrong turn.

I have begun to see parts of the world I thought I knew from movies and a few trips I had made over the years—Brooklyn, Queens– but which were now changed.  Some of the places I drove past today were unrecognizable as urban or suburban neighborhoods in the United States.  There remains something deeply unsettling when the familiar takes a turn down such a strange road.   When I was 19, I worked in Mexico where I stayed for 6 months before hightailing it back to school.  We worked adjacent to a dump with families that struggled through their days salvaging trash.  Touring the dump that first day, and seeing the little cardboard shacks where the families lived was a shock to my system.  People don’t live this way.  But they do.
Deployed: Day 1


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