Local volunteers showed a lot of heart Saturday when they helped the Red Cross transform the gymnasium into a shelter for families seeking refuge from Irene.
There were 11 volunteers from Port Washington setting up 500 beds and making people feel welcome, said John Crawley, president of the Port Washington Lions Club and vice president of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, two local organizations who pitched in.
In a post Sept. 11 world, that has since seen reports of the aftermath of Katrina, earthquakes in Japan and Haiti, and more, natural disasters are "in our psyche,” Crawley said. So when it came time to set up a shelter on Saturday, “we knew what to do."
“We started at 10:30 a.m.,” Crawley added. “We left at 10:30 p.m.” They were back the next morning, when it was time to dismantle.
The shelter accommodated about 400 people, Crawley said.
In setting up, Crawley said he was acutely aware of respecting people’s need for privacy. To that end he tried to model a shelter designed by Shigeru Ban, a Japanese architect, well known for his work in housing disaster victims.
“Privacy is very important,” Crawley noted. The volunteers made a point of establishing aisles, “so people could have a separate space,” Crawley added.
Recognizing that not everyone in the shelter spoke English as a first language, volunteers made certain that supplies and amenities were visible, seeing to it that toilet paper, coolers with ice and water, changing stations and more were in full view. This way, if families didn’t understand a Red Cross announcement, they still had a sense of what was available, and where, Crawley said.
Crawley said the cafeteria was opened, so people had a place to sit and eat meals, other than their cots.
Directed by the Red Cross, the volunteers worked to accommodate those in need of shelter, ensuring their dignity.
That effort waw enhanced by local resources. Crawley said that when the gyms' overhead fans brought in rain from the storm, Tom McDonough, the ex-chief of the , located extra fans from the New Hyde Park Fire Department. The NHPFD also loaned an extra generator.
Volunteering, Crawley said, “was an easy decision to make. Giving it that hospitable Port Washington feel – that’s what we do.”