SPRINGFIELD – Too many people wanted to help.
That was the “problem” the Pioneer Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross faced soon after 9 a.m. Thursday as dozens of good Samaritans poured into the Cottage Street headquarters. Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society in Springfield had the same situation; good people wanting to do after-disaster volunteer work who had to be turned away because enough help was on hand. The aftermath of Wednesday's tornado tornado aftermath brought out some of the best in neighbors all around the county. It’s the silver lining in the funnel cloud, as you will.
At Red Cross headquarters agency staff were giving people the “bad news.” Only medical personnel and licensed mental health workers were needed as all other volunteer needs were filled.
Brenda Brouillette, deputy director, said the chapter had been inundated with people termed “spontaneous volunteers.” Those are new people who come to help after a disaster, as opposed to the “core” volunteers who are trained and on call for such events.
Red Cross volunteers and staff were busy picking up foods donated by area restaurants, sequential steps in the chain of acts of kindness. At Red Cross headquarters and area shelters the “been-awake-all-night” look was in many eyes.Christopher Hodges, 22, of West Springfield, was a “spontaneous volunteer” with a just-right resume. Hodges, a deputy sheriff, wore his Red Cross vest over his Army National Guard camos.
Hodges was packing food and supplies Wednesday night, driving twice to Monson to deliver food to a shelter there and to public safety personnel. He and his crew also went to Chicopee to pick up donated food from Wendy’s, Panera Bread, Popeyes and Applebees.
Hodges had a plan to volunteer as long as he is needed. Used to going without sleep, Hodges said, “I’m going to try to go for at least 58 hours.”
Wendy Grolnick, a Longmeadow psychologist who teaches at Clark University, is a core Red Cross volunteer who on Thursday morning was in charge of intake of mental health professionals who were volunteering. The first task had been to make sure there were mental health volunteers at the shelters overnight Wednesday with “the level of distress” felt by many people there.
Most mental health workers for the Red Cross take extensive training in disaster mental health. Those coming in Thursday were getting a crash course and then being put to work. Noah Pascal and Sean Rider were among those turned away Thursday morning at the Red Cross. They cheerfully told the apologetic staff member that is was okay.
Both are Springfield College students, in summer classes. Each year they are used to volunteering, doing annual trips to New Orleans post-Katrina to help.
Donna Toupin, coordinator of chapter services for the Red Cross, stood in an empty MassMutual Center mid-morning Thursday.
Donated Pioneer Valley Transit Authority buses had taken 170 people to the new shelter at Greenleaf Community Center. Staff and volunteers had made the cots, food, water and other supplies disappear quickly and reappear at Greenleaf.
Michael Cohen and his son Bradley Johnson of Agawam were loading boxes onto the Emergency Response Vehicle, or ERV, at the MassMutual Center.
Cohen said he woke up grateful because his house in Agawam didn’t get hit while others close by did. “We figured we were spared, let’s help others who weren’t,” Cohen said.
The Springfield Salvation Army was assisting tornado victims and first responders from Westfield to Sturbridge. On Thursday the Salvation Army had four mobile feeding units out in western and central Massachusetts.Wednesday night the Salvation Army provided over 1800 hot meals and 200 cots to victims and first responders.
The law firm Martin, Harding and Mazzotti booked 25 rooms at the Marriott Hotel for people displaced by the tornado. The Springfield office, which is in the Marriott complex, of the Albany, N.Y., based firm opened last year.
Paul Harding, one of the partners, was not in Springfield when the tornado hit but traveled here Thursday to help set people up in the hotel rooms.
There were lots of good people wanting to help four footed residents too. Candy Lash, spokesperson for Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, said the Union Street animal center suffered a lot of damage but the current staff and volunteer crew was all that was needed there.
Kevin Perrier, who owns Five Star Building Corp., is on Dakin’s board and “was there in a heartbeat last night with our entire team” fixing what they could and assessing damage, Lash said. It is not clear when the center will be open to the public.
At mid-day Thursday there were 200 adoptable animals in the building. The Animal Rescue League in Boston offered to take adoptable animals.
Some animals were sent to Dakin’s facility in Leverett, which is open. There’s a tornado sale on kittens and cats in Leverett with a $5 adoption fee.
A busload of people who had gone to the MassMutual Center Wednesday night with their animals was taken to Dakin Thursday morning to sign their animals over to temporary care at Dakin.
Northampton officials were among those who arrived from other communities to help in the aftermath of the tornado. Fire Chief Brian P. Duggan said his department sent three of its ambulances to Springfield and West Springfield immediately after the twister blew through to respond to reports of people trapped under rubble.
Some of his firefighters also traveled to Palmer, Brimfield and Monson as part of a Hampshire County Disaster Task Force. Duggan personally was deployed to Springfield Wednesday in his role with the State Fire Mobilization Plan and was there all night and into Thursday.
Northampton Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrook spent more of the day Thursday assessing damage in Monson. Hasbrouck said he called his colleague in the devastated area to offer his services. “They said they’d love to have the help,” he said.
Walmart stores in the region have already donated goods to displaced residents and rescue workers, said Christopher N. Buchanan, director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart in Massachusetts.Here are some ways to help out, and some resources for people needing help.
The Salvation Army is asking for monetary donations toward tornado relief, which can be made on-line at www.salvationarmy-ma.org or through the Salvation Army’s Text to Give number. A $10 minimum donation can be made by texting the word TSAMA10 to 85944.
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Salvation Army can call 339-502-5900.
In the coming days, there will be a request for non-perishable food and water donations. The Salvation Army will make an announcement as soon as a drop off location is determined.
The United Way of Pioneer Valley has established a disaster relief fund with an initial grant of $25,000 in response to the tornado devastation. United Way Board Chair, Kevin C. Maynard and President & CEO, Dora D. Robinson are encouraging other fundraising efforts to partner with United Way in support of these relief efforts.
All funds will be used to support the programs administered by local Red Cross chapters throughout Hampden County.Residents of the communities affected by yesterday’s devastating tornadoes are urged to use United Way’s MASS2-1-1 referral service which connects callers to information about critical health and human services available in their community.
According to Paul Mina, executive director of MASS2-1-1, staffing of the referral service has been increased in response to the tornadoes.To make donations to the Tornado Relief Fund, go to www.uwpv.org and click on the donate button, or mail your check made payable to United Way of Pioneer Valley, 184 Mill Street, Springfield, MA 01108. For more information, call the United Way 413-693-0227.
The Red Cross Safe and Well website is being used to track residents who have been displaced by yesterday’s tornadoes in the Springfield area.
It is a free, public communication tool where those affected by disasters can register on the site and post messages that they are safe. Loved ones can then conduct a search on the site to view the posted messages.
To access the website, please go to www.redcross.org/safeandwell. You can enter yourself as “Safe and Well” if you were impacted by the storm, or search for a loved one you cannot locate.
People who do not have access to a computer and the internet, can call the City’s 3-1-1 Call Center which can assist you with entering yourself into the system or searching for a loved one. The number into the 3-1-1 Center is 413-736-3111.
Registration computers will be made available at shelter locations within the City of Springfield for residents located at those sites. Please be patient as the database will take time to fill up. If you do not see a loved one listed when you search initially, please check back later.
The Red Cross said people can help people affected by disasters as well as countless crises at home and around the world by making a donation to support American Red Cross Disaster Relief. The gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for and provide shelter, food, emotional support and the assistance in response to disasters.
Visit www.redcross.org or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. Contributions may also be sent to the American Red Cross Pioneer Valley Chapter at 506 Cottage St., Springfield, MA 01104 or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013
The Food Bank of Hatfield coordinated an immediate response to get food and water to people at shelters and those seeking help.
Community members wishing to help in the effort to provide food to Springfield households affected by the tornado are encouraged to contact The Food Bank or the American Red Cross. Ready-to-eat non-perishable foods are most needed at this time. Those affected by the storm should visit www.foodbankwma.org for a list of shelters, emergency food access, and other resources.