Faces of desperation abound at Red Cross shelter

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Duarte, who owns an online business, flew in from Glendale, Calif., six days after Sandy struck to volunteer his services. He took the Herald on a tour of the shelter, with one caveat –– “clients,” as he called evacuees, could not be interviewed or photographed. In fact, he said, no pictures could be taken inside or outside the shelter in order to protect victims’ privacy. But he agreed to give the tour to let people know that the shelter is there and to make the public aware of the services it offers.

Duarte said that 600 Red Cross volunteers flew in from all parts of the country to aid in the recovery effort unfolding across the tri-state area. “We come en masse,” he said.

One of them is Melody Brent, of Howard, Ohio, the shelter’s assistant manager, who is a retired nurse. “They all have a story to tell,” Brent said of the evacuees. “They have no electricity. It’s cold. There are some people who have lost everything. People had to leave without much.”

She noted that many older adults suffering from long-term illnesses had but 15 minutes to escape flood zones, many forgetting precious medications in the rush to get out. “We try to get them the resources they need,” Brent said.

The shelter has a fully staffed medical triage center and pharmacy, and, Duarte said, representatives of the county Department of Social Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are on hand to help process victims’ paperwork. The idea is to help connect victims to the available resources that will allow them to rebuild and return home.

Behind the shelter, there’s a laundry center in the back of an 18-wheeler. Showers are available in the center’s locker rooms. Clergy of all faiths come through to meet and pray with evacuees. Children are bused to their respective school districts and returned at day’s end. The Red Cross even arranges for hair appointments.

The shelter, Duarte said, “is a one-stop shop to get [storm victims] back on their feet.”

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