The Akron Beacon Journal has partnered with FirstMerit Bank and the American Red Cross to set up a disaster relief fund to help the tens of thousands of East Coast residents displaced in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Thousands of people still are living without heat, water, electricity or food nearly two weeks after Sandy slammed coastal cities and towns. Making the situation worse, a nor’easter pummeled much of the same region with more high winds, rain and snow last week.
The disaster relief fundraising drive will be a communitywide effort.
“It’s a shame we have to do it, but it’s great to have partners to help — the paper giving space to get the word out and the Red Cross with its boots on the ground actually doing the work. And since we’re a bank, we get to collect the money,” said Nicholas Browning, president and chief executive officer/Akron Region for FirstMerit. “The Red Cross has been a good client of the bank for a long time, so we are able to put [donated] money directly into their account and make sure those people who want to help others are able in the easiest way possible.
“And since we have so many branches, we can conveniently collect the money.”
Beacon Journal Editor Bruce Winges said the people of Greater Akron are “very giving.”
“We’re lucky and blessed to live in a community that cares enough to help others in their time of need,” he said. “The Beacon Journal gladly accepts this leadership role.”
Browning agreed that a culture of giving permeates the Akron area, as does a culture of volunteering.
The American Red Cross of Summit and Portage Counties has deployed 18 volunteers from Northeast Ohio to New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia and Connecticut to help storm victims.
George Riedel, 68, of Bath Township, left two weeks ago, just ahead of the hurricane. He spent Friday wrapping up his time there as the Red Cross cycled others to the scene.
Riedel was stationed near Atlantic City, N.J. He was among several two-person emergency response vehicle (ERV) teams.
For the past two weeks he delivered hot meals and water to people in the disaster zones and hot meal food drops into some of the shelters.
“Our kitchen has put out close to 30,000 meals for lunch and then another for supper and we’ve been doing that since right after the hurricane came ashore,” Riedel said. “There are about 90 to 100 ERVs from all over the country. There are two people on a vehicle and sometimes three to help serve. It’s a huge, huge operation.”
Riedel said things are better, but still not good.
“People are still displaced. There’s huge debris all over the place, pretty much on the coastal lines now. A lot of sand from the sand dunes washed inland, and that stuff was up as high as parking meters. We’re talking about 4 or 5 feet. It’s just really bad,” he said.
“They are starting to get the power back on now, but the people have been without power in a lot of places for almost two weeks. ... The gas stations had [long] fuel lines, but they are better now. In Jersey, the gas station lines were 2 miles long.”
He said people volunteered to help from all over the country from Miami to Seattle and California.
This venture is not new to Riedel. He has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, and also volunteered for Hurricane Irene relief efforts.
“Typically, volunteers are the first wave of people to get to the scene,” said Michael Taylor, communication specialist for the Northeast Ohio Region of the American Red Cross. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who go out on a deployment like this are volunteers — people who have the time and energy. You have to hand it to these volunteers, there is no payment and they are away from home for two or three weeks at a time.
“It’s because they have that desire in them to help somebody else at a time of need. When you talk to most of the volunteers, that’s what they tell you. They feel they have to help out when something like this happens. They don’t want to be home sitting on the couch watching TV, watching it happen on the news. They want to be there helping people recover and get back on their feet. They are an incredible group of people.”
Taylor said the Red Cross is now sending mental health specialists to help people with the emotional recovery from the disaster as much as the physical recovery.
Marilyn Miller can be reached at 330-996-3098 or firstname.lastname@example.org.