BY KEN LITTLE
At least 88 volunteers from the American Red Cross East Tennessee Region deployed to assist in the recovery from Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the coastal areas of several northern states in late October.
One of those volunteers, Greeneville resident Jim Schumacher, is glad he was part of the relief effort.
Schumacher deployed to hard-hit New York City on Nov. 30 and returned on Dec. 14.
"It was touching and heartwrenching to see people who had lost so much. Most people were appreciative of what we were doing, so it was good to be part of that," Schumacher said a few days ago in a telephone interview.
Schumacher, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force after a career of nearly 30 years, has lived in Greeneville since 2005 with his wife, Mary.
He is an experienced Red Cross volunteer, and also serves as chairman of the board of directors of the Greeneville/Greene County Community Ministries (Food Bank), in addition to volunteering with the local Habitat for Humanity organization.
Schumacher said the response to Sandy by the Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations is impressive.
"When we did it for our tornadoes in Greene County (in April 2011), it was a much smaller-scale operation," Schumacher said.
Hurricane Sandy, later called Superstorm Sandy after it made landfall at less than hurricane strength near New York City, affected millions of people in the Northeast and, to a lesser extent, the Southeast.
Sandy affected 24 U.S. states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin.
There was particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York.
Sandy's storm surge hit New York City on Oct. 29, flooding streets, tunnels, subway lines, houses and basements in the surrounding area, and cutting electric power in and around the city.
Damage in the U.S. from the storm is estimated at more than $63 billion.
When Schumacher arrived about a month after Sandy hit, there were still many scenes of destruction in and around New York City.
He was assigned to a mobile kitchen run by the Southern Baptist Convention that provided meals for storm victims in Brooklyn, Queens and areas of Long Island.
His role was as an "ERV" driver, driving an Emergency Response Vehicle resembling an ambulance that distributed meals prepared at the mobile kitchen in the borough of Queens.
PLENTY OF NEED
Schumacher saw a lot of need, even one month after Superstorm Sandy. Fellow volunteers included two men from Kingsport.
Many survivors lived in multi-story apartment complexes where basements containing the buildings' power sources had been flooded.
"Six weeks after the storm, some of these people did not have all their power and gas," Schumacher said.
He met one woman originally from Russia whose child was confined to a wheelchair and could not leave their apartment because the elevators were not working.
"The people have to walk up these long flights of stairs," he said. "We saw a lot of devastation, but a lot of it was on a personal level."
Schumacher's work took him to different sections of Long Island, Coney Island, Brighton Beach and other areas of New York City.
"We were going out to different areas each time, and we saw some total devastation," he said.
In the Rockaway Beach area of Long Island, in the borough of Queens, Schumacher saw rows of burned-out houses that were consumed by flames after one house caught on fire and the blaze spread to neighboring buildings.
"We served meals in areas that were a little hazardous," he said. "We were told not to stay too late, but we didn't have any incidents."
The first week Schumacher was in the New York City area, he bunked with other volunteers in the gymnasium of a small college on Long Island. He was later put up in a hotel in downtown New York City, with a roommate from Michigan.
Working in the New York City area sometimes meant hours-long traffic jams to get to where the volunteers slept, and later to return to the food distribution site.
Overall, "It was a very interesting and sometimes challenging, often rewarding experience," Schumacher said.
The American Red Cross mobilized more than 15,800 trained workers to help people affected by Sandy. Like Schumacher, about 90 percent of them were volunteers.
There were some unanticipated rewards during Schumacher's Red Cross deployment, he said. For instance, he made new friends, and met other volunteers from across the United States.
"I met some people from my hometown in upstate South Carolina, near Greenville," Schumacher said. "To go to New York to meet people where I grew up, it was a good experience."
But the greatest reward for Schumacher was seeing the results of his volunteer work.
"I was able to make a contribution and reach out and touch some lives and help people start the recovery process," he said.
Schumacher is happy to be back in Greeneville, where his wife is a teacher at DeBusk Elementary School, to support her and continue his other volunteer activities.
Anthony Morrison, executive director of the Greene County Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the organization couldn't function without the help of people like Schumacher.
"Folks like him are great folks. They are very dedicated to up and leave, in his case for a 15-day deployment, and it's very challenging work" Morrison said.
"We're always looking for folks like him to volunteer and help other folks," he said.
Volunteers and donations are important to further the mission of the Red Cross, Morrison said.
To make a financial donation, go to http://www.redcross.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Donations can also be made to local Red Cross chapters or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.