American Red Cross volunteer Marty Gensheimer drove a Knoxville Emergency Relief Vehicle to Manhattan and Long Island Oct. 27, one of the first 15 units providing disaster relief from superstorm Sandy. Fellow Knoxvillians John O' Hare, his co-driver, and Betty Kelly are also part of the onsite effort. He spoke with Metro Pulse on location Nov. 6.
What are you doing there?
We're working out of a kitchen delivering meals—mostly on Long Island, they were hit pretty hard. There are people without power who have been in the dark and the cold a long time. We're taking hot food, bottled water, and snacks to help alleviate suffering so to speak.
Does the scene hit you hard?
I've been doing this eight years, 18 trips, and you never get used to it. When you help people when they're in the situation these folks are, it makes you feel warm all over even when it's cold out here. It's good for us to be doing this. That's what the Red Cross mission is and that's what we do.
Are you volunteers also without power?
We just moved out of a school gym and we are staying currently at a different kitchen location, a firehouse. We bring our cots and blankets and things with us. We've got heat and power and water and such as that, but nothing fancy, and the guys and gals are in there together.
Are you mostly delivering to people who didn't evacuate?
Many of them stayed put because they didn't have any place to go. Some spent time at Red Cross shelters and then went back home. A lot of the shelters are still open and people are going there for warmth and electricity. And they're predicting really bad weather coming in tonight [Nov. 6] so I don't know what will happen.
Why have you been doing this?
When I retired, my health was good and I thought, "I'm going to do something to help people." I've had a great life and I'd like to pay back. I'm happy to do it and I hope to keep doing it at least for a little while. This is a hardship assignment, but we knew that when we got there. We knew it was a hardship, they tell you, and we signed up anyway.
Are the people very surprised?
They don't get too many hurricanes up this way, although last year they got Irene. This particular hurricane is much worse and they're just stunned. In the poorer sections, they live in high rises and they're dark. And it's cold, and they can't cook. We operated out of the Brooklyn area some, out on Long Beach. Lido Beach was hit really hard, all the beach areas, because floods came in with the hurricane.
Do you have a background as a driver or EMT?
No, I was a production manager for a little company in Chattanooga, and here I am driving what I call a feeding vehicle on Long Island.
How can those of us who stayed home best help?
We don't get government money; we're all funded by donations. So the best thing is to send some money, by text [Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief], or donating on redcross.org.
Why do you volunteer?
I don't know. I just feel that's what I'm supposed to be doing. It's largely a faith-based thing for me. God said to feed people, and that's what I'm doing.