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Alexandria volunteer helps with 'Sandy' relief

After Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, volunteers flocked to the scene. Juanita Bolinger of Alexandria, a case worker for the Red Cross, joined those volunteers and assisted FEMA and New York City with crowd control as people came to sign up for assistance.

With nearly 14,000 Red Cross workers from 50 states responding, this was the largest relief effort in five years.

On Staten Island, Bolinger and her group of volunteers worked 10- or 12-hour days, depending on the need, six days a week.

Bolinger's day would begin with wake-up at 5 a.m. and breakfast at 6 a.m. At 7 a.m., she and other volunteers would ride one hour to the Kia building on Staten Island and work from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

On Bolinger's one day off, she volunteered to help deliver food from a truck in the areas that were the hardest hit.

According to Bolinger, most workers volunteer for two to three weeks, so the work force is constantly changing. A lot of them rotate home and then return after tending to home needs.

Despite so many volunteers, conditions suffered. "Mold and bacteria were rampant," Bolinger recalled. "Three-fourths of the staff at the main headquarters in Manhattan got viral infections with high fevers."

For two nights, Bolinger, 100 other volunteers, FEMA and Ameriprise workers slept in bunk beds on the 600-foot aviation support vessel, S.S. Wright, for lack of housing on Staten Island. From there, they moved to Holiday Inn in New Jersey, which offered discounts to the Red Cross.

Many people helped, from those who worked in the kitchens making food, to those who delivered, to shelter workers, case management and mental health workers. Health services also provided items such as dentures, glasses, wheel chairs, walkers, baby food, clothes, etc.

"The work to be done is staggering. I don't think the public realizes how hard the work is," Bolinger said. "The victims suffer, but so do the volunteers, in different ways, whether from the elements, leaving families, etc."

The services provided were duplicated by other private organizations, FEMA and the local government, but even with all the help, the Red Cross is still in need of volunteers.

"The areas destroyed were so heavily populated that the needs were massive," Bolinger said. "No one organization could do it alone."

Before volunteering, Bolinger had no idea how the Red Cross put her donated money to use. Now, seeing the benefits first hand have deepened her desire to help.

"I am thankful for the opportunity to see what the Red Cross does," Bolinger said.

To volunteer or donate to the Red Cross, visit