The American Red Cross estimates about 9,000 people affected by Sandy slept in its shelters Tuesday night. The engines that keep those shelters running are the countless volunteers offering help and a shoulder to cry on. Our Sarah Blazonis was in Syracuse as a group of 13 CNY volunteers began their journey to take part in the relief effort.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Elizabeth O'Donnell-Ersek is not one to shy away from disaster scenes. She routinely volunteers with the Red Cross, responding to incidents like house fires.
"I see a lot of people at the time of disaster and I've realized that a hug, a smile, just some compassion goes a long way," said Baldwinsville resident O'Donnell-Ersek.
It's that human touch volunteers hope to bring with them as part of the Red Cross' disaster relief effort. One group from across Central New York was briefed before heading to the White Plains Disaster Operations Center.
First-time disaster relief volunteer Paul Campbell says he was ready when he got the call asking for help.
"It looked as bad as some of the scenes from Katrina. So the first thought was, 'Yeah, I'd like to go down there and help,'" said Campbell, a Tully resident.
From White Plains, volunteers will be assigned to help provide food or shelter to those displaced by Sandy. It's a task that can take its toll.
"We work 12, 14 hours a day, we never quite know what the sleeping conditions are going to be, and you combine all that together being amidst all this tragedy and suffering, you can get down a little bit sometimes," said volunteer Nicki Macallair.
The Red Cross will have mental health workers on site to help clients and volunteers. And despite the hard work ahead, all said they were eager to get to work, especially O'Donnell-Ersek, a native New Yorker whose family still lives in the city.
"I was quite afraid when the disaster hit. They're okay, so I just want everybody else to be okay," she said.
For more information on how you can donate time, money, or blood to the Red Cross, visit www.redcross.org.