Young students raise money for hurricane victims

Belmont students

In Gaston County, a group of Belmont Central Elementary School students asked their principal, Sara Moore, if they could ask for donations for two weeks to help fund the Red Cross response to Hurricane Irene.

So the four girls – Gracie and Maggie Gibbons and Gracie and Sophie Smith – went to work. With Ms. Moore’s help, there were announcements over the school intercom, posters hung and a Red Cross table displayed at the PTO meeting.

The school also offered the class that collected the most funds a pizza party by asking Johnny B’s to donate pizzas. And the principal agreed to allow the class at each grade level that collected the most to have a Hat Day at school.

The school raised $1,000.52!

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Red Cross shelter was a home for the homeless

ray gerrish

The following is an excerpt from an article by Olivia Neeley of The Wilson Times. It’s about Ray Gerrish, a homeless man in Wilson, N.C., who found hope and love in an American Red Cross shelter.

As Ray Gerrish sat underneath the gazebo Wednesday, his hands shook. He started to smoke, heavily. The unknown awaits him today. And he’s scared.

The past five nights, Gerrish has had a roof over his head, a place to sleep and food in his belly. Far different from the life he’s lived recently.

But he knew this day would come. He knew he couldn’t stay there forever. He knows he will have to say goodbye.

“You know when you have that gut feeling you’re going to miss your family?” he said. “That’s basically how I feel.”

Gerrish, who had been staying at the Raleigh Road Baptist Church shelter for nearly a week, was now contemplating his next move. The shelter, operated by the American Red Cross, was closing.

“I’m a nervous wreck,” he said. “Not knowing … you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next hour.” 

THREE PEACHES AND HURRICANE IRENE

It was the night before Hurricane Irene was expected to hit Wilson. Gerrish had only eaten three peaches in the past few days. His blood sugar levels dropped. And the heat, bearing down on his small-frame body, eventually took its toll.

After finally passing out, he somehow got to the hospital. He was weary.

The storm was headed his way. And he knew it wasn’t safe to stay where he had been calling home — the woods in Wilson.
While in the hospital regaining strength with the help of fluids and food, he saw someone he knew. The woman told him about the hurricane shelter opening up in Wilson at Raleigh Road Baptist Church. He headed out there around noon and stood in line for three hours. Finally he was safe from this storm.

But it would only be for a short time. 

‘TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE’

The first day the shelter opened, migrant workers from Hyde County arrived in two yellow school buses. They loved him. The shelter began to quickly fill up. By evening, Gerrish was settled in, reading “Tuesdays with Morrie.”

Two days later, his demeanor was quite different. He laughed a lot and met two brothers from Swan Quarter.

“We’ve been having a ball the past few days,” Gerrish said Sunday over lunch.

His spirit was rejuvenated. His smile rekindled. 

 DRAWING TO AN END

Red Cross volunteers scurried around Wednesday morning. Cots were taken down. Boxes were packed. And the makeshift space Gerrish called home briefly was on the brink of shutting down.

He knew his time was drawing to an end.

“It’s really scary,” he said, puffing on a cigarette still sitting underneath the gazebo. He almost left the shelter a day earlier. It’s easier to leave than say goodbye.

The dream he had been living in would soon fade. Instead, reality would sink in. The place where laughter once bounced off the walls would soon be filled with silence by nightfall.

But his life wasn’t always this way. 

‘I JUST NEED A BREAK’

Gerrish worked on an oil rig years ago. In the early 90s he worked in Charlotte, picking up the homeless, feeding them, he said. “Who would ever think it would happen to me, making a complete circle in the opposite direction,” he said with a gaze directed at the floor of the gazebo.

As Gerrish rubs his leg, he appears to be in pain. He’s had three surgeries and now walks with a cane. He said he injured his leg after falling down a flight of stairs.

He said he received a workman’s compensation settlement for his injury, but the money is long gone.

He helped his mother, sister, others and provided for himself as long as he could. Now he’s applied for disability, which can take years before it’s approved.

“I need my social security to come through,” he said. “I just need a break. How much further down can you get?”

‘DON’T READ IT UNTIL AFTER’

Dinah Veler, Red Cross disaster leadership team coordinator, met Gerrish the day he checked into the shelter. While her duties were extensive, she became a solid rock for him. He even opened up to her about his life.

To Gerrish, she was a blessing from above, something he has needed for a long time.

“I’ve really met a good friend, a friend for life,” Gerrish said. “I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any family. She’s special.”

The entire time the shelter was open, you could always find Veler with a smile on her face. She’s from Scotland County and helped out during Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi. She said people start to heal when they open up and tell their stories.

“Every time they tell me their story, it gets a little bit easier for them,” Veler said earlier this week.

Gerrish said the two plan to stay in contact. She appeared to be worried about him Wednesday.

She handed him a letter earlier, he said.

“Don’t read it until after (you leave the shelter),” she told him. 

A PLACE FILLED WITH LOVE

Gerrish smokes another cigarette. The pastor at Raleigh Road Baptist Church, along with Red Cross volunteers, have been working all morning to find Gerrish a place to stay. He’s grateful. But he knows options are limited.

Tears fill his eyes, but only briefly.

“It will all work out,” he said.

All Gerrish has now are the memories he made in a place he least expected and an uncertain future.

Still, he learned to laugh again.

Different paths crossed at this disaster shelter. It wasn’t just a place of refuge from the storm. For a few days, it was a home he loved.

Fast Facts: Hurricane Irene

The following information shows our total service delivery since the beginning of Hurricane Irene’s impact on the following states: Puerto Rico, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, District of Columbia, Virginia, and the New England states.

Three “superheroes” aid victims after Hurricane Irene

Jerry White, Doris Moorman and David Fitzgerald have formed a super-hero bond through volunteering together with the American Red Cross.

Story and photo by Kate Meier

Jerry White, David Fitzgerald and Doris Moorman started volunteering with the American Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the local chapter in their hometown in Pascagoula, Miss.

Since then, the three have often deployed on disasters together, working to bring emergency relief to people affected by hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. They have formed a kinship that spawned nicknames that have a super-hero flair:

“Well, Jerry is the Toothless Wonder, David is the One-Armed Bandit, and I’m the Old Lady,” laughed Doris.

While they don’t consider themselves heroes – “We just do what we can,” Doris said – it’s hard not to think of them that way. The three are driving Emergency Response Vehicles in North Carolina, delivering food and water to people in areas where Hurricane Irene made a devastating footprint.

David, a former Marine with 20 years of service, lost his right arm during a tour in Nicaragua during the revolution. He said spending so much time with the Red Cross is worth it, especially when he gets the chance to make a difference with families who have experienced tragedy.

“It really means something to physcially experience disaster,” he said. “I found the Red Cross, and I found a home.”

Doris, who will turn 74 this year, doesn’t look her age. “Well, anytime you can do something to help others, you do it, and it keeps you young.”

Jerry, whose home had also taken thrashings from Hurricanes Frederick and Camille, said he was fortunate that the American Red Cross was there to help him.

“So now, I volunteer with the Red Cross to help other people who have been affected by hurricanes. I consider it payback,” he said with a toothless smile.

The three got word that Hurricane Irene was going to leave families without food, water and shelter, and that the Red Cross would be in need of volunteers who could lend a hand.

So off they went. The Toothless Wonder, the One-Armed Bandit and the Old Lady mounted their rides, fired up the engine, and flew to North Carolina to bring aid to those who need it.

Story: “Goodnight, Irene, it’s time to go”

This blog was written by Kate Meier a Red Crosser who is currently deployed to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

I came to Kill Devil Hills three years ago for a good time at the beach.

Now, a hurricane warning and declared state disaster later, I’m here again, but this time, I’m waiting to see what Hurricane Irene is going to do.

I drove around the Outer Banks today, talking to residents about what they are doing to prepare. Many were boarding up their homes. Some spray-painted the boards with, “Goodnight, Irene. It’s time to go.”

Most told me, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Bob Brightbill and Kate Meier discuss plans for Hurricane Irene. American Red Cross/Chris Osborne

 

This is Bob Brightbill. He lives in Kill Devil Hills. He looked at me and said he’s waited out 110 mph winds before and he doesn’t evacuate – just like his brother, Eddie. Eddie has lived in the Outer Banks for 30 years and has never evacuated.

“This is just a Category Two – I don’t see any reason to leave,” Eddie told me as he boarded up his sister’s surf shop.

Despite calls for evacuations (though most aren’t mandatory), many local residents are saying this is a fire drill with no fire. A local builder told me code requires homes to be able to sustain 120 mph winds – so Irene “isn’t that much of a threat.”

The good news is that despite an unwillingness to leave, there is an overwhelming push for preparedness. Everyone we talked to was stocking up on emergency items – water, nonperishable food, batteries. I stopped at a local hardware store where they were sold out of gas cans.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find one anywhere around here,” said one store employee.

The Red Cross asks everyone to stay tuned to the weather and make a plan should they need to evacuate. For most in the Outer Banks today, this was old news – they knew the hurricane’s path just as well as anyone else, they have the evacuation route memorized and their disaster kits are stocked.

So now, we wait.

At a pharmacy, one employee said, “You Red Cross? Man, I don’t like seeing you here. That means it must be bad.”

“But ma’am, we have to be here,” I replied.
“And I’m glad you are,” she said.