From Sandy to Harvey, A Volunteer’s Experience is a Light in the Storm

By Cuthbert Langley, Regional Communications Program Manager, American Red Cross

It’s 11:15 on a Wednesday morning at the Disaster Operations Center at the American Red Cross in Dallas. A man with salt-and-pepper hair and an Army-green Red Cross t-shirt moves with purpose, preoccupied. After spending much of the morning in meetings, he now packs up to head to the Red Cross-managed shelter at the Dallas Convention Center to connect with those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

This is Gary Olivero, a Red Cross volunteer from Sea Bright, New Jersey. His busy Wednesday would later include an appearance on the local ABC affiliate, where he would take calls from people needing help during Harvey’s aftermath. It was all in a day’s work for Olivero, and a demonstration of his commitment to an organization that answered his own call for help.

Unfortunately, he knows disaster and devastation all too well. Hurricane Sandy knocked on his town’s door back in 2012.

“We literally lost our entire town. Our Post Office, the barber shop, the entire town,” Olivero said.

He was a volunteer for the Red Cross many years prior to Hurricane Sandy, and had amassed a healthy amount of experience in Red Cross response situations. As a volunteer, he’d traveled throughout the country, delivering food and supplies to those who needed them during disasters in their communities.

With Sandy came his turn.

“One of the most touching things …was when some of my peers showed up in front of my house, giving me some of those same (Red Cross relief) supplies,” he said.

Now, five years later, his town has been rebuilt. Its spirit has returned, but the memories have remained. Olivero is now using those memories to relate, one on one, to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

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“I have a heightened sensitivity because you truly don’t grasp the emotional impact of these (disaster) events until you’re suffering three weeks in.”

He’s made it his mission to use his own experiences to bring reassurance to those just beginning their road to recovery. With volunteers like Olivero and the American Red Cross, Texas will recover and rebuild.

To learn more about the Red Cross, and to enroll as a volunteer, please visit www.redcross.org.

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