WOODLAND, Maine — Resident Bill Thomas spent two weeks volunteering with recovery efforts on Long Island after superstorm Sandy from Nov. 3 to 17, and he recently redeployed with the Red Cross to offer more aid.
According to Joyce Knorr, Aroostook County branch manager of the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross, Thomas left Dec. 8 for the same New York location.
The first time Thomas went down to the island, he was pretty surprised by what he saw.
“It looks bad,” he said while home between Red Cross deployments. “There are trees uprooted, sand and debris all over — especially the closer you worked to the beach.”
Driving the Pine Tree Chapter’s Emergency Response Vehicle, Thomas said it was tough to squeeze the vehicle through some streets because of all the sand and debris; clean-up efforts in that area are ongoing, but Thomas seemed pretty proud of the fact that he only got one flat tire during his time in New York.
“I mostly delivered food and blankets — and blankets and blankets,” he said with a smile. “A lot of people’s basements and first floors flooded. And especially with the salt water in there for so long, their furnaces are gone, their appliances are gone and the high-rise buildings, they may have power back, but no heat,” Thomas said, adding that not all areas have power back.
Thomas used an emergency response vehicle to distribute thousands of meals to residents and said that the kitchen he was operating out of — staffed by volunteers of the Christian County Baptist Association of Hopkinsville, Ky. — served about 114,000 meals a day, all cooked in a tent erected in a parking lot. Knorr confirmed that serving 114,000 meals a day out of such a kitchen was a very realistic number.
Even though superstorm Sandy struck in late October, Thompson said there are still people very much in need.
“I’ve already volunteered to go back,” Thompson told the Aroostook Republican in late November. “It’s humbling, very rewarding, very spiritual — people are coming together living in a way that, I don’t know how many people believe it, but living in a way that God planned.”
Thompson described how everyone was pitching in and helping out. One unemployed man in his late 20s, for instance, helped out for a while “and you could tell he wasn’t afraid to work,” Thomas said. Another group of individuals set up alongside the road and served free tea.
“Now of course tea wasn’t very nourishing as far as food, but it was very good for the spirit,” he said.
When asked how many times he heard the words “thank you” while delivering food and blankets, Thomas said that numbers don’t go that high.
Thomas said the New Yorkers were very appreciative of the assistance, and in return they gave him a lot of thank you’s, God blesses and even hugs.
“Some of the people had a pretty good sense of humor, all in all. My driver and I were around Broad Channel and a guy gets up and says ‘Hey, do you guys want my boat? You can have it, all you have to do is take it out of my house,’” Thomas said. “The boat was up on his porch and the bow was in his front door.”
In another instance, a man came up to the truck to receive a meal and joked that he’d take the lobster tail and steak. Not missing a beat, Thomas replied, “And your choice of wine, sir?”
“The New York people were wonderful,” Thomas said. “I honestly have not gone to a place and met a nicer bunch of people.”
What really impressed Thomas, however, was a group of teenagers. When they’d come to get meals for their families, he said, they always made sure to pick up supplies for their elderly neighbors.
“It’s people helping people, and we had volunteers from all 50 states,” Thomas said, adding that it’s unfortunate that it takes a disaster like Sandy to bring out the best in people, “but everyone’s helpful.”
While Thomas has been impressed by the way groups from all over have come together to help those in need, there are plenty of people right in Maine who are pretty impressed by Thomas’ willingness to volunteer.
“He’s very selfless — one of the most generous people I’ve ever met and so willing to give of himself to give to those in need,” Knorr said, mentioning the veteran’s other volunteer activities with the Caribou Community Emergency Response Team, the Grey United Memorial Methodist Church, the Caribou Kiwanis Club, and the Halfway Home Pet Rescue. He’s also civically active with the town of Woodland, she said. While Thomas said that volunteering with the Red Cross has been a humbling experience, Knorr said Thomas is already one of the most humble people she knows.
During Thomas’ current Red Cross deployment, his efforts will be focused on shelter work, instead of food distribution.
People can donate to the Superstorm Sandy relief effort through the Red Cross by contacting Knorr at 493-4630, visiting redcross.org, or sending a check to 7 Hatch Drive, Suite 250, Caribou Maine 04736 with “Disaster Relief” in the memo line.
“There are several ways to donate, and it’s all tax deductible,” Knorr said.