Five days after Hurricane Sandy slammed ashore along the New Jersey and New York coastlines, Fred Sansone got a phone call from the American Red Cross. Sansone, who is director of gift and estate planning, is a regular volunteer for the disaster agency. It’s his way of giving back to the community, the same way that he asks donors to give back to Xavier.
“You can always do more than just donate money,” Sansone says. “We all have time, talent and treasures we can give to help those in need.”
Once again, the Red Cross was asking Sansone to do just that. Within 24 hours of the call, Sansone was on a plane heading toward the stricken area, landing in New Jersey on Sunday, Nov. 4. He remembers how eerie it was driving on the interstate.
“I flew into Philadelphia and grabbed a rental car,” he says, “and when I got on the highway, it was empty. I was the only car.”
He headed to North Brunswick where the Red Cross had converted a three-story office building into a central staging area for all the support it needed to supply to the vast numbers of communities devastated by the storm. He joined more than 250 volunteers already busy in their offices and helped out for several hours coordinating the delivery of meal trucks for that night’s dinner.
At 7:30 a.m. the next day, he was back, crammed inside a room at the headquarters, standing shoulder to shoulder with the other volunteers. Every day began with a briefing by a Red Cross representative standing on a stepladder speaking through a megaphone.
Sansone was assigned to logistics. His job was to manage the vehicles used in the relief effort to deliver supplies and food. He had to make sure there were enough trucks to pick up supplies from warehouses and enough cars for the volunteers to get to their work sites in the different communities, and to make sure nothing was lost during transitions. He managed fleets of trucks, automobiles and emergency mass care feeding vehicles that were being dispatched to locations in need of food for displaced residents.
He spent most of his time in the headquarters where he had access to phones and computers. But once he went into the field as he was tracking down trucks and tractor-trailers that were moving supplies.
“I spent a short time in a massive warehouse where thousands of meals, blankets, baby supplies, clean up kits, etc. were pouring in from all over the country,” he says. “There I worked with other Red Cross volunteers as they were fulfilling field supply demands. My job was to assist the field operations with supplies and support. They were the direct providers to the public.”
Logistics proved to be a good job for Sansone. He’d had a similar job when he volunteered the previous year after Hurricane Irene hit New England. He remembers how one job became a nightmare. A pallet of water that was five feet by eight feet was too big to be moved by themselves. So he called around looking for a forklift. No luck. All of them were already being used. Upon hearing “no” one last time, he asked the company where they bought their forklifts. Finally, he had some luck. He called that supplier, and a forklift was on its way.
“I remember going to get lunch after that call, and while I was eating I saw a truck go by towing a forklift behind it,” he says.
Over the course of nine days after Sandy, Sansone helped the Red Cross serve more than 1 million people affected by the storm. He said it was very sad to see the destruction it caused.
“I did not see much except there were vast areas that were without power as I drove to my overnight quarters,” he says. “Trees were down all over. Thousands around me were affected by electrical disruption and widespread power outages. I spent only a few nights in accommodations with no heat and power. Many thousands of others were not so fortunate.”
Sansone had offered up three weeks of his vacation time to help with the relief effort, but he returned early, glad to have been able to help at all. Sansone humbly lives out the Jesuit mission of striving to be men and women for others through his work with the Red Cross, and he encourages others to do the same.
“We don’t need to go far to help,” Sansone said. “Many here at Xavier help right here in the Cincinnati area. I’m no different than the person down the hall.”