In the middle of all the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, Tony Burke witnessed pure gratitude from the victims.
"Some of them just wanted a hug," Burke said.
Burke is the chapter support officer for the Ames, Marshalltown and Ottumwa areas for the American Red Cross. He spent two weeks in November in Queens working with Red Cross and FEMA staffers and volunteers to help victims of the storm.
Gary Holmes, left, Dave Fort, right, and Marcelo Saardera, consume turkey dinners provided by the Red Cross on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 22, in Seaside Heights, N.J., as they take a break while working to repair a neighbor’s home.
He was amazed at the spirit of everyone working together.
"The common theme was it's client first," Burke said.
Burke, who lives in North Liberty, started on the job in June. Through his experience in New York, he has realized the power of the Red Cross to bring people together.
"I think my impression is the Red Cross can be and will be the convener and bring all parties together," Burke said.
Burke worked out of vacant building that FEMA moved into to help with assistance in Queens. He didn't make it to the "front lines" of the devastation but did have some interaction with victims.
He mentioned what he called a "vertical problem" with a disaster happening in a city like New York. Instead of handing out food to somebody on the ground, often times they had to reach victims 80 floors up.
"It's a huge challenge," he said.
New Yorkers have a reputations of being gruff, but in the end it's just people helping people, Burke said. He remembers an elderly woman who had cancer and just wanted a blanket and a connection to someone.
"Just that little bit of connection with the outside world was huge," Burke said.
Those who want to donate to the continued relief effort can visit www.redcross.org.