Banner Staff Writer
Stan and DiAnna Stanich joined volunteers from all over the world who answered the call to disaster relief in light of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction in late October.
“The people in New Jersey were just phenomenal,” DiAnna said. “When we went to locate one lady, the people had been out of power for nine days. They invited us in and wanted to make us PB&J sandwiches. They were sending their family members to various locations to help those whose homes were much more devastated.”
Added DiAnna, “We were truly blessed to see the kindness of the New Jerseyans to other people.”
The Staniches headed up on Nov. 2 to join the migration of volunteers to the North. Red Cross workers came from all over the world to aid in the disaster relief operation. Stan and DiAnna met people from other countries and newfound friends from faraway states, like Hawaii. The next 14 days stretched, tested, and touched the couple.
Destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy was massive. Stan and DiAnna prepared themselves to help out in whatever capacity was needed.
“We had no idea what to expect. We just saw the pictures on TV,” DiAnna said. “The day we came in there were already 1,400 RC volunteers. The next day, there were 600 new volunteers. By the time we left, there were 4,000 people arriving to help out.”
Check-in occurred as soon as their plane landed in Newark, N.J. Bags and personal items were dropped off at the Hyatt Regency. The two made their way to the Disaster Relief headquarters. Marge Woodruff, Safe and Well manager, took them under her wing.
Safe and Well seeks to discover the whereabouts of missing individuals. Relatives and friends fill out a form concerning their loved one. Information from the form, like phone numbers and addresses, are used to make contact. Sometimes, requests are made to neighbors for further information.
“You have to be careful, because the missing person may come from an abusive relationship,” DiAnna said. “We would make contact with the missing person and ask them to make contact with the person seeking them. The place the missing person is was never disclosed.”
Several missing individuals on the couple’s list were on an island off of New Jersey’s coast. The island was under martial law and could not be reached. There were reports of destroyed homes, power lines down and looting.
For five days the two made their way down their lists looking for those missing in action. On the sixth day they were called to offer aid at local shelters. Volunteers who had given two weeks were headed home. The mass migration was turning into an exodus. The Staniches were assigned to Bernardsville High School and given a rental car.
“It took us 30 minutes to go three miles the first night, so we mapped out a new route to get to our assigned shelter,” DiAnna said. “It took us from 1 1/2 to three hours to get to our site and return home daily.”
According to the Staniches, the shelters were run by municipalities, not the RC. Law enforcement, FEMA personnel, private security and the military provided security. There were hundreds of misplaced and homeless individuals under one roof. Gang members and drug addicts were intermingled among the general population.
“Because the shelters were run by municipalities, they accepted everybody. Red Cross has a policy that we set up shelters for victims of the disaster. So we do not take the homeless,” DiAnna said. “We found in several shelters, the homeless were the first to come and the first to leave. The last four to leave in Bernardsville were all homeless.”
“We brought in social services,” Stan said.
DiAnna agreed, “We contacted social services to come in and start interviewing these people to find out what their needs were. One woman did not have her three children in school. We got her established so her children were in school.”
The Staniches said the Red Cross was altering their plan of attack. The disaster caused by Hurricane Sandy made flexibility a key. Several firsts were made.
“We had special experiences with a blind client and her seeing eye dog, Coral. This is the first time Red Cross had an animal in a shelter,” DiAnna said.
Stan recalled the story of a 10-year-old autistic girl.
“A little girl became scared and started crying. Something told me to go get her a teddy bear,” Stan said. “I gave it to her and she stopped crying. She threw her arms around me and I immediately hugged her back.”
The sight almost made DiAnna cry. She watched the exchange occur from across the room. It was especially prudent the child be calmed as it was 3 a.m. and people were trying to sleep. Stan and DiAnna worked the midnight shift their entire time at the Bernardsville shelter. They arrived at 8 p.m. to work through the night until 8 a.m.
“We needed a day off because we were not used to the graveyard shift and we are older folks,” DiAnna said.
Added Stan, “Everybody needs a break.”
A trip to Princeton University was made. Both agreed the grounds and surrounding town were beautiful. The two even managed to do some souvenir shopping for their daughters and grandchildren.
Both felt well taken care of by the Red Cross as they gave their time to the relief operation.
“Air travel, the car rental, and our hotel was paid for by the Red Cross,” Stan said.
“— we paid for our gas,” DiAnna inserted.
“They also gave us a credit card for meals. Some people did not have jackets for the Northeastern storm, so jackets were bought. ... Every day they made sure we were safe,” Stan said.
Emergency relief items were kept packed in the Staniches’ rental. Blankets, water bottles, and heated meals were given to those in need. These goods were passed out at any point of the day.
Monmouth Park, a horse track, was the last shelter the two were assigned. According to Stan and DiAnna, the site was known as Camp Freedom, or Tent City. Photo ID badges were required to enter the shelter.
“It [entire project] was a stressful, but very friendly atmosphere. It was our first DRO [disaster relief operation] and it was memorable. We would go back in a minute,” DiAnna said.
Added Stan, “We have made friends through the operations. We exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so we can look them up in the future.”
Several of their newfound friends have already sent them email. There is an expectation of staying in touch. Especially if both parties should respond to the same DRO.
“We look forward to answering the call to help those affected by disasters in the future,” DiAnna said. “Red Cross is an excellent charitable organization that really takes care of its volunteers and disaster victims.”