As the wind drove rain across the parking lot of Nassau Community College American Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) member Steve Bayer carried his clipboard through the school’s physical education center helping to oversee the sheltering of 365 people on Monday.
Hurricane Sandy headed towards Long Island and Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano ordered a mandatory evacuation of communities in flood and storm surge areas making shelters like this one necessary. Since 1 p.m. Sunday, evacuees began to take up residence. More were coming. The shelter had 500 cots available as of 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Bayer, a retired Massapequa native now living in Florida, was called into action this weekend. This was his 39th deployment. “I was looking for something to do after retirement and it was a way to help people,” said Bayer, who became a member of the American Red Cross’s Mineola chapter 15 years ago.
He stressed that safety is the No. 1 priority of all the volunteers at the shelter. “We want people to come here or one of our other shelters, we don’t want them on the road when the wind is over 45 mph,” Bayer said.
The shelter at NCC is providing food, mental health counseling and for the children, entertainment in the form of movies on DVD or impromptu amusement by the volunteers.
Oceanside resident Brielle Hills, a special education major at Molloy College, has been a DAT member for the past four years. “I like to help people and I love children,” she said.
While both Bayer and Hills don’t downplay the enormity of the situation, they also understand that there can be lighthearted moments as well. Both related stories about different young girls, one 12 and another four, who were at the shelter last year during Tropical Storm Irene and had to return this year as Hurricane Sandy approached Long Island.
“There was a video of the [of the 12-year-old] on the Disney website,” Bayer said, referring to last year’s shelter stay. “She is nice, appreciative, a sweetheart.
Bayer emphasized that the Red Cross, despite having American in its name, doesn’t receive federal funds and does all it does through donations ranging from corporate money to those individual $10 text contributions. “We appreciate whatever people can give,” said Bayer, who added that DAT members assist those displaced by crises such as fires and help to find them shelter and get them clothing. The Red Cross also aids the firefighters at those fires.
Bayer and the other Red Cross volunteers will be there “as long as we are needed,” he said, adding that, “Red Cross people have learned to be flexible.” Hills said, “We are trained and can do it.”
To donate to the Red Cross, go to www.redcross.org or text Red Cross 90999.