Morris residents Sandi and Dan Dransfeldt received a phone call at 11 a.m. on Nov. 8, 2012. Within four hours of that phone call, they were driving to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and would arrive in Newark, N.J., by 10:48 that same evening.
That morning, the Dransfeldts had received a national disaster assignment from the American Red Cross for Hurricane Sandy relief. They packed in just a few hours and rushed to the East Coast.
Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in October 2012. During the storm, winds reached 90 mph in both New York and New Jersey, storm surges were as high as 13 and 14 feet, rain gauges reached measurements of 11 and 12 inches in several areas, and 33 and 34 inches of snow were recorded in neighboring states, according to www.climatecentral.org.
While the Dransfeldts responded that day in about four hours, their mission actually began over 30 years ago, when Sandi was told she could no longer donate blood to the Red Cross because her iron level was too low. Not wanting to take no for an answer, though, she asked how else she could help.
Sandi has been with the Red Cross ever since. She spent 25 years as a staff member at the American Red Cross Grundy County Chapter. Then, once she and Dan retired, they both became volunteers for what is now the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago.
Together, Sandi and Dan have done hurricane relief for Hurricanes Rita, Isaac and Sandy, along with other local disasters such as tornadoes and floods.
“It’s very rewarding,” Dan said.
“But it’s not for everyone,” Sandi added. “It’s hard work.”
The Dransfeldts enjoy being outside to see where the damage happened and hearing the stories of those who survived the disasters.
Sandi and Dan were assigned to drive an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) in New Jersey.
An ERV can serve one of three functions. It can be used for mobile feeding on fixed routes and schedules, as a search and serve vehicle traveling to remote areas to find people who may need food, or as a fixed location for feeding where the ERV would be parked on the roadside feeding anyone who walked up to the truck.
“They look like ambulances with the box on the back,” Dan explained.
An ERV can also be used to haul large amounts of food or supplies to shelters if needed.
The morning after they arrived in New Jersey, Sandi and Dan attended a Red Cross meeting to learn about the damage Hurricane Sandy had caused and more about their assignment.
“We are working with more than 50 national partner organizations and have nearly 500 partner volunteers deployed in support of this response,” Sandi wrote in a journal. “The entire Red Cross fleet of response vehicles, more than 320 in total, has been activated to distribute meals, water, snacks and relief support.”
Sandi keeps a journal throughout every disaster she and Dan volunteer for so she can better remember everything they saw and can better tell their story once they return home.
More than 5,300 Red Cross workers volunteered on the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy hit, Sandi wrote. She also reported more than 9,000 people had been affected by the storm.
The Dransfeldts spent two weeks loading their ERV with food and supplies, delivering the goods to shelters, kitchens and individuals, and cleaning and sanitizing the truck.
“We drove almost 1,000 miles in two weeks,” Dan said.
Throughout their time in New Jersey, the Dransfeldts saw homes destroyed, people broken emotionally, and other physical damage to the area, such as five-foot piles of sand left behind after the water had receded back into the ocean.
Sandi said Hurricane Sandy was the most physical and most emotional disaster she had ever responded to since starting with the Red Cross. It was also the first cold-weather hurricane the couple had responded to.
“We love it,” Sandi said. “It is so rewarding.”
“It’s quite an experience,” Dan added. “I’m just glad we’re able to go.
Seeing the devastation also makes Sandi and Dan appreciate what they have when they get back home to Morris.
“Dan and I are on the plane coming home thinking how much we have to be thankful for … being with our families, and a home to come home to and for all we have,” Sandi wrote. “May we all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and think about the victims of Hurricane Sandy and all the first responders helping to carry on the work that has to be done.
The Dransfeldts returned from New Jersey the night before Thanksgiving.
Anyone who wishes to volunteer for or donate to the American Red Cross can visit www.redcross.org.