SALT LAKE CITY — As Hurricane Sandy tears up the East Coast, Utah's Red Cross is calling on the state to join a nationwide relief effort giving needed funds and restocking the blood supply.
Teresa Zundel, communications director for the Utah Red Cross, said Utahns looking to help can pay back the support the Beehive State received during this year's historic wildfire season.
"If we think back to the summer, it was us … having thousands of Utahns evacuated at a moment's notice and having our friends and neighbors in shelters," she said. "We are really honored that we can in turn return the favor and extend assistance to Red Cross chapters in affected states."
Donations can be made online at www.redcross.org, by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767), or by text messaging the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
Financial donations are vital because they most easily fill specific needs in addition to general food, clothing and shelter, Zundel said.
"Say we have a baby in a shelter that's lactose-intolerant and needs a rice-based formula," Zundel said. "It's because we have donation funds available to us that we can go and get that specific product for that child."
Zundel reported the Utah group has been part of the organization's nationwide relief effort that is already under way. The night before Hurricane Sandy struck, an estimated 3,200 people spent the night in 112 shelters across nine states, she said.
The Red Cross in Utah is unable to take in-kind donations, like blankets or supplies, because of a lack of storage and other logistical concerns.
Evacuations and closures in the wake of Hurricane Sandy led to the cancellation of needed blood drives in 11 states across the East Coast. The Red Cross is calling on Utahns to help make up the difference.
John Petersen, a Red Cross Blood Service Regional representative, said blood donations in Utah will fill the local community's need as well as needs of hurricane victims.
“Just as Red Cross volunteers have mobilized to provide disaster relief and other emergency assistance, we are mobilizing blood and platelets donations to ensure patients have access to the potentially lifesaving blood products they need,” Petersen said in a press release Monday.
The Red Cross in Utah has more than 100 specialized volunteers ready to mobilize to the disaster area should the need arise, Zundel said. Two of those volunteers are expected to head east this week.
Vern Gillmore, an 80-year-old Spanish Fork resident, was preparing to fly to Albany, N.Y., Monday to assist in the Red Cross' relief efforts, but his flight was one of hundreds canceled across the country. Now, he is stuck in Utah with his packed suitcases waiting by the door.
"If you told me to go now, it would take me all of 30 seconds to be in my car and be gone," Gillmore said. "I want to be there to help at a time when the people really need, probably the most severe need for help they're ever going to experience in their lives."
Gillmore has spent the past three years volunteering with the Red Cross and has been trained to assist in mass care, mass feeding, shelter operations, client case work, disaster assessment and managing emergency response vehicles. He won't know where he'll be assigned or what he'll be doing until he can get a flight out.
Last year Gillmore was on hand for Hurricane Irene, and he has been deployed to more than 40 disaster situations, big and small.
For Utahns wanting to volunteer with the Red Cross who are unable to travel, Gillmore said most of his "deployments" have been to local emergencies, such as flooding in Santa Clara and Saratoga Springs.
"There are disasters going on almost daily in most chapters, and those things that are happening are in your local community," Gillmore said.
Gillmore said he doesn't have any friends or relatives on the East Coast, which in some ways makes his service more meaningful.
"I enjoy helping people I don't know," he said. "You are helping a human being, and that's it. It could be the president of the United States or it could be a person shining shoes on the sidewalk."
Utahns can also contribute online to other organizations providing relief to Sandy's victims in the United States and elsewhere, such as Save The Children at www.savethechildren.org, Direct Relief International at www.directrelief.org, AmeriCares at www.americares.org, or International Medical Coprs at internationalmedicalcorps.org.
Smartphone users in Sandy's path can download the Red Cross Hurricane App to track the storm's path, receive updates, locate shelters and medical services, and let loved ones know they're safe, Zundel said. The app also allows anyone with friends and relatives keep track of the hurricane's progress.
For more information go to deseretnews.com.