By Chase Rheam
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A Stillwater man was one of the more than 40 Red Cross state volunteers who assisted cities ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Mike Zanfardino, a computer technician with the city of Stillwater, received the call on Halloween asking if he could deploy the next morning. He took two weeks of vacation and set out the next day with another volunteer from Enid.
“We drove up from Oklahoma City to Newark, N.J., where we helped set up one of the mobile kitchens,” Zanfardino said. “From there, we traveled out each day to various parts where the Red Cross said meals were needed.”
During his two-week stint, he worked with a woman from southern California who represented AmeriCorps. Each work day consisted of 12 hours.
“We left at 8 o’clock in the morning and got back about 8 o’clock at night,” he said.
From their truck, Zanfardino said they fed, on average, between 500 and 1,500 people at each meal and delivered two sets of meals each day.
He said they would drop off the meals at pre-existing shelters or search for those without homes in need.
Zanfardino, a Red Cross volunteer for several years, said this was his first national deployment. He is originally from Westchester County in New York and moved to Oklahoma when he was 16.
Zanfardino said he knew the areas to which they were traveling.
“I’m originally from New York, so I knew the area where we were going to, but I wasn’t too surprised at the damage,” he said.
“I know what type of damage flooding can do, and along the coast, there were a lot of houses that were completely gone, a lot that were destroyed and a lot that were affected.”
However, that didn’t mean the images he saw weren’t amazing.
“Driving down the road through Highlands, N.J., you see the water is on your left side about 200 or 300 yards on your left,” he said.
“On your right, about a couple hundred yards to your right, is this stack of boats and houses all up on a hill, just piled on top of one another. Just looking at where the water was and knowing that some of the houses were down there and now seeing them all stacked up was just ... that’s a testament right there to how devastating it was.”
Zanfardino said crews would have to wait for snow plows to clear the thick layer of sand off the streets.
“It’s something that I never would have imagined that devastation,” he said.
Members of Southern Baptist Relief cooked the meals in mobile kitchens for Zanfardino to deliver. In addition to hot meals, Red Cross volunteers would also deliver snacks, silverware, bottles of water, heated meals for later, blankets and cleanup kits. Local stores would donate clothing such as jackets.
Zanfardino said people’s hearts open during times of disaster.
“Everywhere we went, no matter what type of neighborhood we went to, apartment complexes; we went to a senior center where they had no power and we were getting ready to serve hot meals out of our truck,” Zanfardino said. “Well, a citizen came up. They were on their way to work and asked what we were doing and we told her. So, she stopped, called into work and said she wasn’t going to be in and helped us. She took all the meals from the truck and was going through knocking on each door and delivering to people.”
While he only saw a small portion of the overall response, Zanfardino had the chance to talk to other responders, including police, firefighters and electricians.
Regional Director of Communications Ken Garcia said this was the organization’s biggest response since Hurricane Katrina. Garcia said the number of Oklahomans deployed depends on the scope of the disaster.
“The fact that we mobilized all the emergency response vehicles ... this was a huge scale and not typical of the responses, but it does show that the Red Cross is able to mobilize all national efforts,” Garcia said.
Zanfardino has returned to Stillwater.
“Even as I was coming back there were more people being deployed,” he said.
Zanfardino said he’s thankful that his employers allowed him the time to help in the effort. He said there is still much that can be done for anyone who wishes to volunteer.
“I was really grateful I got the chance to go up there and that Red Cross gave me the opportunity to help out,” Zanfardino said.
“It’s definitely something I would do again.”
For more information, visit www.redcross.org.