Delivery Holiday Wishes and Cheer to Deployed Military Members and Veterans

Tips for a Fun and Safe Halloween

Halloween is just days away. Fast becoming one of the most popular holidays in this country, masses of little super heroes, cartoon and television characters will soon be out in their neighborhoods for trick or treat fun. The American Red Cross has ten tips parents can follow to help keep the kids safe while enjoying the festivities.

Here are the top tips for parents to keep in mind while getting their kids ready for Halloween this year:

  1. Make your cloth mask part of your costume. A costume mask is not a safe substitute for a cloth mask. Avoid wearing a costume mask over a cloth mask as it can make breathing difficult.
  2. Plan outdoor activities and avoid indoor events where the risk of virus transmission is higher.
  3. Bring hand sanitizer with you while trick-or-treating and use it after touching objects or other people. Wash your hands when you get home.
  4. Avoid trick-or-treating in large groups, and social distance from others around the neighborhood.
  5. Make sure trick-or-treaters can see and be seen. Give kids a flashlight to light their way and consider adding reflective tape to costumes and trick-or-treat bags.
  6. Plan the trick-or-treat route in advance and make sure adults know where their children are going. A parent or responsible adult should accompany young children door-to-door. 
  7. It’s not only vampires and monsters people have to look out for. Be cautious around animals, especially dogs.
  8. Walk only on the sidewalks, not in the street. Avoid running. Look both ways before crossing the street, and cross only at the corner. Don’t cross between parked cars.
  9. Only visit homes that have a porch light on, and never go inside.
  10. Make sure a grown-up checks the goodies before eating. Make sure to remove loose candy, open packages and choking hazards. Discard any items with brand names that you are not familiar with.

For those planning to welcome trick-or-treaters to their homes, follow these safety steps:

  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters by setting up an area with individually bagged treats for kids to take. Wash your hands before handling treats.
  • Maintain social distancing and wear a cloth mask.
  • Light the area well so young visitors can see.
  • Sweep leaves from your sidewalks and steps. Clear your porch or front yard of obstacles someone could trip over.

Download the free Red Cross First Aid app for instant access to expert advice in case your ghost, goblin or superhero has a mishap. Use the Emergency app for weather alerts and to let others know you are safe if severe weather occurs. Find these and all of the Red Cross apps in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps. 

Red Cross Disaster Program Manager Reflects on Disasters in the Time of COVID-19

By Heather Lockhart, Disaster Program Manager, Red Cross New Jersey Region

The United States Postal Service has an unofficial creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” 

I’d like to borrow that for a moment and tweak it a bit to reflect what we do in the American Red Cross, with one very important addition: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor pandemic stays these humanitarians from providing compassionate care to those in need.” 

It’s been a challenging 18 months. When lockdown descended on New Jersey, those of us in Disaster Cycle Services had to scramble to figure out how to provide assistance to our New Jersey neighbors displaced by disasters while keeping our workforce, our partners, and our disaster survivors safe. With technology, an abundance of patience, and guidance from our partners at National Headquarters, we figured it out. Between March 2020 and the end of June 2021, we assisted 8,431 individuals across the state in spite of the pandemic.  

Our Disaster Action Team (DAT) and Mass Care workforce faced the most challenges in adapting to the COVID environment, since so much of the work they perform has traditionally occurred in face-to-face interactions with those impacted by disasters. DAT went virtual; we were able to begin assisting disaster survivors over the phone utilizing videoconferencing apps, and the roll-out of our new system, RC Care, allowed us to start providing emergency assistance using electronic funds transfers (EFTs). 

Though we were not able to put our reassuring arms around the shoulders of those in need, this new system and intake process allowed us to get them assistance quicker than ever before. We also leaned heavily on the expert help of our Disaster Health Services, Disaster Spiritual Care, and Disaster Mental Health teams. These teams were available for both disaster survivors and our volunteers and staff to help us work through the stress and fear so many of us were feeling. For those impacted by disasters, that help was essential; it’s traumatic enough to experience a disaster, but for it to happen in the midst of an event that had already upended all of our lives is almost unthinkable. 

When we started moving back to in-person disaster response as the COVID-19 cases in New Jersey declined, we made sure to wear personal protective equipment and practice physical distancing – but still found ways to express care and compassion, even with those physical limitations in place. 

Mass Care, which is the function that takes care of sheltering large numbers of displaced individuals, could not go virtual. Multi-family fires and disasters that displaced a significant number of people who needed immediate shelter still continued to occur. In those cases, we were able to work with our partnerships with local motels and hotels to provide individual rooms for those displaced by home fires and other disasters so that they could be kept separate and safe. Volunteers distributed pre-packaged meals as well, keeping our disaster survivors fed with balanced meals while they began to work on their disaster recovery. 

There are a few instances that stick out in my mind as a shining example of the teamwork and commitment of our volunteers: 

  • During our response to a Princeton Junction apartment fire in April, two of our most seasoned volunteers, Julie Daigle and Kyle Chu, came out that night to help 24 families find their footing in the immediate aftermath of a blaze that destroyed an entire apartment building. 
  • Red Cross support of the first responders who helped battle the wildfire in Lakewood and Brick, which found volunteers CJ Longo, Jim Moran, Lane Emley, Cindy D’Onofrio, and Disaster Program Specialist Jo Poplawski serving water and snacks from an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV).
  • One of our longest-running missions last year was our support of the COVID-19 vaccination site at the Meadowlands. Dozens of volunteers supported the operation – donating more than 2,500 hours to help guide the thousands of New Jerseyans as they came to the mega site to get vaccinated. 

Though we remain cautious in the work we do as circumstances change, nothing has changed our volunteers’ dedication to the American Red Cross mission: To prevent and alleviate suffering, no matter the hurdles. 

Volunteer Perspective: Logistics Warehouse Manager Clare Rybczynski

By Clare Rybczynski, American Red Cross Volunteer 

When I joined the Red Cross in November, 2013, I never expected to receive so much.  Helping those affected by disasters is full of life-changing and memorable moments. I experienced many of those through the years, as a disaster responder, emergency response vehicle (ERV) driver and now as Logistics Warehouse Manager. 

Deploying over 25 times on a variety of regional, divisional, and national disaster responses, I know I am making a difference. 

I was deployed for Hurricane Harvey disaster response efforts back in 2017 as an ERV driver delivering meals in communities impacted and fortuitously fell into warehousing. The warehouse in Corpus Christi needed help, so myself and my team member were willing to go wherever help was needed. You know what do they say in Red Cross; flexibility is the name of the game! 

I worked with a tremendous crew, learned so much including becoming a forklift driver and from that point on I’ve deployed 10 times to volunteer in logistics warehousing.  

When Red Cross volunteers deliver goods to affected areas, support a shelter, or feed out of a kitchen, all those supplies are provided by a warehouse. It can be from a disaster field supply center or a local disaster relief operation warehouse. Warehouse volunteers may not be on the front line seeing the disaster victims face-to-face, but logistics is an essential part of a disaster response, and we know we are helping our fellow Red Crossers to get the job done.

I have learned so much as a volunteer. The training opportunities that Red Cross offers are large and if applied you see much personal growth.

Little did I know that at 58 years old I would be driving forklifts and box trucks, working in warehouses at all different jobs and recently becoming the only female warehouse manager for the Red Cross. 

I couldn’t have gotten this far without other dedicated volunteers who saw something in me and were always there for questions, help and unlimited encouragement.  

I just got back from a deployment in Oregon for wildfires. I opened a disaster relief operation warehouse in Salem, Oregon as part of a proactive command strategy. This strategy was enacted to get prepared for the upcoming wildfire season, which normally begins in September, but which started earlier this year. I think this is a fantastic concept. 

For the first time, I worked with an all-woman crew, and it was successful! We got the job done and we did it well. I have worked with these women on past disaster responses and we have all grown in knowledge and experience that benefits the Red Cross on many levels.   I enjoy being a part of the Logistics Team and hope that I can fulfil the Red Cross mission for many more years.

Volunteers Needed: Like Clare, you can play a crucial role in our mission and help people in your community and around the country after disasters strike. Start your new journey at redcross.org/Volunteer  

Red Cross Volunteer Caseworker Turns Frowns Upside Down

Cynthia Fields served in the United States Army for 28 years before her Humvee drove over an IED. It was 2012 – She was wounded, honorably discharged and struggling to cope with the stress. Part of her treatment plan was to become active with a local non-profit.

It didn’t take long for Cynthia to choose the American Red Cross.

“The Red Cross was always there to send us off and welcome us home,” she said. “Some soldiers didn’t have anyone waiting for them when they returned, but the Red Cross was always there with a hug and a welcome home. It meant a lot to know someone cared about us.”

For 12 years Cynthia has been a Red Cross volunteer with the South Carolina Region and there are many jobs she enjoys doing, but the one she finds most gratifying is that of a volunteer caseworker.

“I get to turn frowns upside down,” she said.

For the past two weeks, Cynthia has been deployed to New Jersey. She and many other trained volunteers have been meeting with families affected by devastating flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. Our caseworkers have opened more than 1,475 cases, helping at least 4,169 people with disaster recovery support and emergency financial assistance. This financial assistance allows people to make their own decisions and prioritize what their family needs most to start recovering. Funds can help families replace clothes or food, offset transportation costs for those who also lost their cars or support any other immediate need.

Financial assistance is linked to detailed disaster assessments conducted by volunteers. Like Cynthia, dozens of volunteers have deployed to New Jersey and have done more than 7,000 disaster assessments on properties affected by Ida.

It’s not about the numbers, however. Cynthia explained, “It’s about the client – the person who needs help.”

When volunteer caseworkers meet with families affected by disasters like home fires, severe weather, or other disasters, their goal is to provide recovery support, and ask important questions in order to determine what a family’s immediate needs are. Often they are connecting people with our trained health services volunteers, and disaster mental health or spiritual care volunteers. To date, the Red Cross has helped more than 2,125 people in NJ with health services or emotional support since Ida. The caseworkers also follow up with families to provide guidance through their recovery process, connecting them with resources and referrals to help them get back on their feet.

Throughout her 28 year military service, Cynthia saw that the Red Cross was there for her fellow soldiers. And now, she wears the Red Cross logo and is there to help others.

“I’ll keep doing this as long as I can,” she said.

If you’re inspired to help your neighbors affected by disasters and would like to join our team, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Lending a Helping Hand … or paw

The Red Cross has been on the ground since September 1, providing food, water, shelter, emergency items, and emotional and financial support to those affected by Hurricane Ida’s deadly flooding. 

But we’re not alone. 

At resource centers, we often meet residents of the impacted community who may or may not need assistance themselves – but are there to make sure their neighbors are also taken care of.  

Julie Howard is a licensed professional counselor, whose Lambertville, NJ home was damaged by flooding from the Delaware River. 

She came to pick up cleaning supplies and speak to Red Cross caseworkers – but she also brought her trained therapy dog, Nova. 

Nova is a force of happiness. The gentle golden retriever just calmly smiles while children (and adults) show her all kinds of affection. It’s her job – and she does it well. Some of the kids who were playing with Nova would end up at the resource center for more than an hour as their parents filled out paperwork and answered questions.  

And it’s not just clients who can benefit from interactions. 

Representatives from Crisis Response Canines brought two comfort dogs, Axel and Ranger, to the Red Cross disaster operations center in Fairfield on Saturday. Volunteers – some of whom had been working in the community nonstop for the last several weeks – had a chance to pet the dogs and share in their affections.  

Julie says the impact of animal therapy is both immediate and lasting. She counseled survivors of the September 11th attacks and works with individuals and families. 

It will take years for the marks of Ida to fade. But with the support of community members like Julie and Nova – as well as the Red Crossers who live and work here year round – there is a road ahead.

The View From the Ground: A Red Crosser reflects on her first national deployment

By Kelly Isenor

Red Crosser Kelly Isenor, four days into her deployment to help those affected by the remnants of Hurricane Ida in New Jersey, helps a man in Manville with clean-up supplies and information about how to access additional Red Cross services to help in his recovery after. Ida.

I’ve been telling the Red Cross story as a communications professional for four years and thought I knew the ins and outs of what we do. But nothing prepared me for the first moments of my first-ever national deployment assignment.

I was at a multi-agency resource center (MARC) in Lodi, New Jersey, assisting a member of the media looking to connect with a client. I introduced myself to a woman in her 60s and asked how she was doing. 

She burst into tears.

The woman had lost nearly everything she owned in a flood. The water came in through her first-floor windows so quickly, she could only grab a few photos and run upstairs. Her husband has an autoimmune disorder that gives him constant pain and significantly impacts his mobility. They didn’t have flood insurance. They couldn’t afford a hotel room. He was running low on medication. They needed help.

I would love to say I was able to answer this woman’s questions, walk her to each table and sit calmly by her side while she received every bit of help she would need. But all I could do was sit with my hand on her back and let her cry into my shoulder until another volunteer reminded me, there were trained Red Cross caseworkers and disaster mental health and spiritual care workers ready to help. 

This would not be the first time I felt unprepared for what a post-hurricane relief effort felt like.

There are so many facets to the work the Red Cross has done in New Jersey in the two weeks since Hurricane Ida brought widespread, deadly flooding. Volunteers have brought hot meals, sandwiches and snacks into communities like Manville, where I met a family living out of their car because they did not want to leave their pets in an animal shelter. 

In Rahway, I was explaining to a news photographer what was inside the cleanup kits we were handing out – things like mop and broom heads, a telescoping handle, cleaning solution and gloves. He says he knew all about the contents – because the Red Cross had brought the same kind of kit to his house after Hurricane Sandy. 

Red Crosser Andreina Sosa speaks to two expectant mothers at the Multi-Agency Resource Center located in Lambertville, New Jersey about their experiences with the recent flooding in their homes and how the Red Cross can help.

In Lambertville, I saw at least three different expecting mothers – ready to pop – who had the presence of mind to accept not only emergency items, but the teddy bears we offered, so that no matter when and where they delivered, they could have at least one soft, clean item for that new baby. 

And at every step of the way, I have seen Red Crossers leaning in, lugging boxes of supplies, heating meals, driving emergency response vehicles, listening to tragic and horrifying stories, arranging recovery resources, providing emergency items, staffing shelters, connecting with partner agencies, providing emotional support, shelter, food and love. So much love. For strangers. From strangers. For New Jersey. From everywhere.

I’ve grown a lot in the last four days. And, while I’m still personally unequipped to make things OK for the lady at the MARC or the moms who might go into labor not knowing if they’ll have a home to bring their new baby back to – I can proudly zip up that reflective, red vest and say, I’m a tiny little part of an organization that is meeting those needs in tangible ways, one mop head at a time. 

After four years at the Red Cross, I am finally a Red Crosser.

Getting the help you need to recover from Hurricane Ida

Multi-agency resource centers open in several New Jersey communities

FAIRFIELD, NJ — The Red Cross is participating in multi-agency resource centers in New Jersey communities all week, to help people devastated by flooding from Hurricane Ida.

A multi-agency resource center or MARC is a one-stop shop for those in need of a multitude of services to begin recovery – anything from assistance to cleanup kits to emotional support.

At the MARC in Lodi on Monday, the Red Cross had tables next to other community, state and federal partners including FEMA, the Salvation Army and local nonprofits.

Clients were able to open casework files, apply for federal disaster assistance, pick up bags of groceries and restock cleaning supplies. Sometimes, all that was needed was a listening ear and a socially-distanced shoulder to lean on.

“You were born to serve,” said one client to a multilingual Red Cross volunteer who was tapped to translate on behalf of Spanish-speaking clients.

If you were unable to attend the MARC in Lodi, the Red Cross will also participate in the following MARCs this week:

Rahway – Tuesday, 9/14/21, 3-7 p.m. – Community Center, City Hall Plaza

Lambertville – Wednesday, 9/15/21, 2:00 – 7:30 PM, Sledding Hill at North Main Street and Phillips Barber Road

Manville – Thursday, 9/16/21, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. – 100 South 10th Ave

If you are interested in learning more, please visit redcross.org/NJ or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. To support the important work of the Red Cross, please consider volunteering your time, giving blood, making a financial donation or learning a lifesaving skill.

Red Cross Assists Somerset County Families Displaced by Tropical Storm Ida

Somerville residents Idriz Sahiti and Leila Koci get some rest with their son Arber and daughter Fiona after getting settled in at the Red Cross shelter at Bernardsville High School in NJ. 

Leila Koci, Idriz Sahiti, their son, Arber, and daughter, Fiona, are still recovering from their harrowing experience during Tropical Storm Ida. While walking into the kitchen of the family’s Somerville home on Wednesday night, Leila noticed water rushing in. She immediately gathered her family and they evacuated with the clothes on their back.  

After a struggle to escape the rapidly rising flood waters, the family finally reached their car.  Soaked and unsure of what to do next, they headed for higher ground and spent the evening in their car in a supermarket parking lot. After returning to their apartment the next day they saw rescue teams using boats to evacuate residents from the higher floors of their building. It was here they learned about a local evacuation shelter in Somerville. 

As they entered the shelter, they realized that the conditions were not right for their son who has special needs. After Arber’s repeated requests to go home, they returned to their apartment to show him why they couldn’t go home. In chatting with a firefighter at the scene, they learned about a Red Cross shelter located at Bernardsville High School. The family arrived at the Red Cross shelter around noon.  

“Everyone is so nice and they are making accommodations for Arber,” Leila said. “The Red Cross is doing the best they can to help. It means everything that my kids are taken care of.” 

Since Tropical Storm Ida hit New Jersey, the Red Cross has provided nearly 750 overnight stays at shelters and volunteers have served more than 1,300 meals. Red Cross Disaster Health Services have assisted nearly 125 people. 

HURRICANE IDA DISASTER RESPONSE Along the Gulf Coast, the work of the Red Cross is just getting started as we help people struggling with the heartbreaking damage left by Hurricane Ida, scorching temperatures and widespread power outages. Some 750 trained Red Cross workers are on the ground now supporting relief efforts in the South. Thursday night, more than 2,400 people sought refuge in 29 Red Cross and community shelters across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. 

In some of the hardest hit parishes, the Red Cross has response vehicles circulating through accessible areas to distribute critical supplies including water, comfort kits and ready to eat meals. The Red Cross is working with partners to set up mobile kitchens capable of preparing tens of thousands of meals. And in the coming days, those meals will be loaded onto dozens of Red Cross emergency response vehicles and delivered to people in the hardest hit areas struggling to recover. With the help of partners, the Red Cross has already provided some 49,500 meals and snacks and distributed more than 16,000 relief items.

HOW TO FIND A SHELTER Anyone in the affected areas that needs a safe place to stay should visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or download the free Red Cross Emergency app by searching “American Red Cross” in your app store or by going to redcross.org/apps. for shelter locations.

HOW YOU CAN HELP To help people affected by Hurricane Ida, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word IDA to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your gift is a commitment to helping people in need, and every single donation matters. Financial donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.

VOLUNTEER If you have the time, you can make a significant impact as a Red Cross volunteer. Review our most urgently needed volunteer positions at redcross.org/volunteertoday.

By Julie Daigle, American Red Cross Volunteer

Remnants of Ida Bring Destruction and Widespread Flooding to New Jersey: Red Cross Responds to Help

What started as a Category Four hurricane in a relatively distant part of the country turned into a nightmarish experience for thousands in northern and central New Jersey and other areas of the east coast as torrential rains from what is now Tropical Storm Ida roared through this week. As always, the American Red Cross of New Jersey and its cadre of volunteers were there to help and fulfill its mission of alleviating suffering in times of disaster.

Forty Red Cross volunteers are currently deployed across New Jersey, staffing four shelters and providing meals and comfort to those displaced by flooding.

Red Cross shelter volunteer Georgette Warren organizes meals before shelter staff feed families staying at the Red Cross shelter set up for those displaced from their homes in Passaic County.

An additional 60 volunteers are on the ground in the neighboring states of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Connecticut, providing service as needed due to flooding.

Red Cross volunteer Peter Grey begins transporting pallets of clean-up kits from a Red Cross Warehouse to trucks for volunteer crews to distribute to people as they begin to clean up after Ida flood waters have receded in some communities.

A volunteer team is also providing assistance and cleanup kits to those impacted by the tornado that touched down in southern New Jersey.  Red Cross volunteers have also begun damage assessment in that community to determine needs. Ninety-six homes have been damaged, many completely destroyed by the tornado that tore through parts of Gloucester County.

As of Thursday evening, the four Red Cross shelters were housing approximately 300 individuals forced to leave their homes because of flooding and Red Cross volunteers have served nearly 600 meals.

The shelters were located at:

  • The Thomas Dunn Sports Center, in Elizabeth (90 people) *This shelter was closed Thursday night.
  • International High School, in Paterson (36)
  • The Thomas Kavanaugh VFW Post 2290, in Manville (100)
  • Bernards High School, in Bernardsville (69)

David and Tina evacuated their Paterson home when flood waters caused by Tropical Storm Ida became waist deep. For two nights, they have found comfort at the Red Cross shelter opened for those affected by flooding in Passaic County. Together and still smiling, David said, “We’re going to make the best of this.”

When flood waters have receded and it is safe to do so, Red Cross teams will be available to assess damage and distribute clean up supplies as needed. 

In a broader scope, relief provided for those impacted by Ida, from the Gulf Coast, to the mid-Atlantic states, has further stretched the outreach provided by the Red Cross and its dedicated volunteers. The major back-to-back disasters of the western wildfires and Hurricane Ida have more than 1,200 Red Cross volunteers working tirelessly from coast to coast at present, providing food, shelter and comfort to thousands of people in need.  Over the past several weeks:

  • The Red Cross has provided nearly 30,000 total overnight stays in emergency shelters across multiple states.
  • With the help of partners, we’ve served more than 123,400 meals and snacks, and distributed more than 21,000 relief items, such as comfort kits and cleaning supplies.
  • Red Cross volunteers have provided more than 16,600 individual care contacts to help people with medical or disability needs, as well as emotional and spiritual support during these challenging times.

HOW TO FIND A SHELTER Anyone in the affected areas that needs a safe place to stay should visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (800-733-2767) or download the free Red Cross Emergency app by searching “American Red Cross” in your app store or by going to redcross.org/apps. for shelter locations.

HOW YOU CAN HELP To help people affected by Hurricane Ida, visit redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS, or text the word IDA to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Your gift is a commitment to helping people in need, and every single donation matters. Financial donations enable the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from this disaster.

VOLUNTEER If you have the time, you can make a significant impact as a Red Cross volunteer. Review our most urgently needed volunteer positions at redcross.org/volunteertoday.