Volunteer says more help needed out EastOn his first deployment as a American Red Cross volunteer, Dave Smette helped drive an emergency response vehicle 1,700 miles to New Jersey, where he helped serve thousands of meals to people stricken by Superstorm Sandy.
By: Kari Lucin, The Jamestown Sun
On his first deployment as a American Red Cross volunteer, Dave Smette helped drive an emergency response vehicle 1,700 miles to New Jersey, where he helped serve thousands of meals to people stricken by Superstorm Sandy.
Smette returned to Jamestown late Tuesday night, leaving the ERV behind for the next wave of volunteers to take over, distributing food on an East Coast still in the initial stages of disaster recovery.
“More people should consider volunteering for Red Cross,” Smette said. “It gives you a good feeling of helping out, but it’s also exciting.”
As of midnight Wednesday, the Red Cross had sent out 8,800 trained volunteers, and more than 300 feeding trucks were feeding people there. Eight shelters remain in operation in New Jersey and New York, with more than 1,000 people in them.
More than 5.8 million meals have been served, many by volunteers just like Smette and his fellow volunteer, Melissa Shepard, of Dickinson, N.D., who took turns driving the ERV from Minot.
The ERV closely resembles an ambulance from the outside, but it serves as a feeding truck, distributing hot food, self-heating meals and drinkable water.
The food doesn’t just magically appear in the ERV, however. To get food to the right place, supply semi trucks first had to deliver the food from outside the area, to a kitchen set up in a large open area originally meant for training firefighters.
That kitchen is located in a large tent, and it is operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, in partnership with the Red Cross. When a winter storm moved in during Sandy’s aftermath, the tent was closed and heated with propane.
In the kitchen, the Baptist volunteers cook and prepare food, typically three different food items per meal — stew, chili, mashed potatoes, fruit and more. All that food is distributed in large containers to the 15 ERVs associated with the kitchen.
Each ERV can hold 200 to 400 meals at a time, and each goes out twice a day, once for the noon meal and once for an evening meal.
In other words, that particular tent-kitchen distributes between 6,000 and 12,000 meals every single day, with volunteer cooks and volunteer ERV personnel.
“Everybody that I saw was ‘Oh wow, thank you, thank you, thank you!’” Smette said. “And some of them (were) coming up crying, and it gets a tear in your eye sometimes.”
At first, Smette’s team distributed food in Beachwood, N.J., which is not directly on the coast and did not receive the worst of Sandy’s wrath.
But winds felled many of Beachwood’s trees, some of which were massive and many of which tore down power lines, smashed cars and damaged homes, Smette said, adding “it really looked like a mess.” They had no electricity, and no heat unless there was a generator.
“They were very, very thankful for a hot meal in that area,” Smette said.
Already, power lines were being restored, he said, with convoys of linemen being brought from across the U.S., including Alabama.
Later, Smette’s group went to the Barrier Islands, which were hit even harder by the storm, as water washed over them, flooding homes and dragging sand, boats, cars and debris with it. The area had been filled with resorts and what Smette described as “fancy homes.”
There, the Red Cross helped feed the National Guard as they began to clean up. People were beginning to be allowed back into their homes, but only for a few hours at a time, and only to pick up some of their possessions in suitcases.
How to help
People still need help on the East Coast, and the best thing to donate is money, said Beth Dewald, executive director of the Buffalo Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Donations to the American Red Cross can be made at its website, www.red cross.org. Designating the gift to “disaster relief” helps money get to wherever the need is greatest, Dewald said.
Donations of $10 can also be made by texting REDCROSS to 90999. More information is available at http://www.red cross.org/ND/Fargo.
Volunteers are also needed, especially people who can spend 14 days assisting at a disaster scene, but also those who can volunteer for 2-3 hours at a time in their hometowns.
For example, volunteers are needed to help families when homes burn down.
To volunteer with Buffalo Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross, call Dewald at 701-252-3550, ext. 2131.
Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at