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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the September 26,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Aftershocks of September 11: View from the Red Cross

Troubled times bring out the best in people, Kevin

Sullivan has found. As CEO of the American Red Cross of Central

New Jersey on Alexander Road, Sullivan directed staff and volunteer

efforts to deal with the World Trade Center crisis. "It has been

an absolute outpouring of volunteer and financial support," he

says, "from Rider University students to kindergarten kids and

corporations. One fire company took up a collection and raised

$15,000.

It’s just been constant."

While the world’s attention focuses on rescue efforts at Ground Zero,

New Jersey’s Red Cross workers have different goals. "We began

by helping stranded travelers, tourists or people who worked in New

Jersey but lived in New York, to shelter and feed them and provide

physical health services and crisis counseling," says Sullivan.

In a three-day operation starting September 11, the Red Cross helped

2,000 people at centers in New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Hudson, Union,

and Bergen counties.

"We supported the Port Authority’s "compassion center" at

the Newark Airport Marriott, providing emotional support counseling,

meals, and transportation to those who lost relatives and live in

New Jersey." The Red Cross provided 12 volunteers per shift for about

a week.

"We are reaching out to families of rescue workers, families who

were on the airplanes that crashed, and families with members who

worked in the World Trade Center," he says. Among the services

offered: emotional health counseling and help in getting free

healthcare,

financial planning advice, and legal advice through pro bono

volunteers.

"We are getting people who say `my husband did the finances and

I don’t know what to do.’"

Cash is often the crucial support needed, money to keep a family

afloat

until insurance kicks in, payments for mortgages, utilities, food,

clothing — even for burial expenses. "Sometimes the help might

be $500 or $1,500 to get them through," says Sullivan.

"We can provide transportation if they need it," says

Sullivan.

"We sent one family back to Oregon; they had just moved here and

after the tragedy they just wanted to go back home."

"Across the state we are trying to be part of the healing

process."

The Red Cross supports candlelight vigils by handing out information

(brochures produced by the national organization on dealing with

grief),

giving people a drink of water, and having mental health workers

available

to talk to people.

The Red Cross also wants to help counter any ethnic backlash.

"It’s

part of our mission to reach out to government and community leaders

to get out there in the forefront about this, to give our point of

view," says Sullivan. The national organization is developing

new, specific brochures about this.

"This isn’t your typical Red Cross operation," says Sullivan.

"We have people reaching out to the families with a simple

message,

that we are here if you need us now — or if you need us in two

weeks." A "no" response now will elicit a call in two

weeks. "We had a call from a mother who had a baby a month ago

and all of a sudden got panicked, and we reached out to her."

Millions of dollars, corporate and individual donations, are pouring

into the American Red Cross coffers. Monies that go to the Central

Jersey chapter can be earmarked for families in New Jersey who are

victims of the terrorist attack. For instance, among the contributions

was a $25,000 donation from United Way of Greater Mercer County

"to

be used by families affected by this disaster." These monies get

forwarded to the national pool and directed back to Central Jersey

as needed. "Any family who has been affected by this disaster

can get money from the national pool," he says.

Much of this money will end up being used for help needed far down

the road. "The national Red Cross is thinking about the long term

presence that it is going to put in New Jersey, New York, and

Washington,"

says Sullivan. "In Oklahoma, they set up a mental health center

and are still working with families affected by the Oklahoma City

bombing. I’m sure it will be a long term effort. We won’t be gone

in three weeks or six months or a year."

Typically, the American Red Cross raises its own money and spends

its own money and has no formal association with other funds or

charities.

Because of its global emphasis, Sullivan says, the Red Cross has a

head start in administering the funds. "We know what we are going

to spend the money on — families, rescue workers or anyone

traumatized

by the event — while other organizations don’t have a process

in place."

To donate, go to www.njredcross.org. Call 609-951-8550 to donate money

with a credit card or to sign up for volunteer training. Checks to

the Disaster Relief Fund can be mailed to American Red Cross of

Central

New Jersey, 707 Alexander Road, Suite 101, Princeton 08540. To donate

blood, call 800-GIVE-LIFE.

Sullivan practices what he preaches when it comes to emotional crisis

counseling. "I started to see the burnout yesterday. We were open

24 hours a day for a number of days," he says. So he scheduled

"debriefings," group meetings where volunteers and staff could

meet with a counselor and talk about their feelings. "I’ve got

my staff working shifts and not allowing them to stay. I’m making

people go home for the first time."

While working hard at home, Central Jersey does have a presence at

Ground Zero. A retired couple left Alexander Road on Tuesday,

September

11, at noon. "They took our emergency response vehicle," said

Sullivan in the interview on Friday, September 21. "Last we heard

they were feeding the rescue workers."

— Barbara Fox


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