By Robb Murray
MANKATO — By now Craig Dale and Gene Retka are somewhere between here and New York, two guys traversing the country alone en route to what looks on TV news accounts like a war zone.
But when they arrive, they’ll be among thousands of volunteers flooding the New England area to help with relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“We’re headed to Middleton, N.Y.,” Dale said. “What usually happens is they’ll set up a center somewhere where all the vehicles operate out of, and then they send us off to different places.”
These two will most likely be just the first of many local volunteers to go. Bob Meyer, executive director of the Mankato Red Cross, said he expects at least two dozen of the volunteers in his database will be sent east.
The Mankato Red Cross efforts are part of a massive national effort. Last night, 11,000 residents spent the night in one of the organization’s 258 shelters spread out over 16 states.
“That population is only going to grow. This was just the tip of the iceberg last night,” he said Tuesday.
More than a thousand volunteers had been positioned near the coast, ready to jump into action. The total number of volunteers used for this disaster is expected to increase greatly, Meyer said.
Beyond disaster relief, the hurricane has canceled hundreds of scheduled blood drives, putting a dent in the regular blood collections used to save lives at hospitals around the nation. According to the Red Cross, they cancellations have resulted in the loss of 9,000 blood and blood platelet donations.
The shortfall is expected to grow as the hurricane has caused power outages and flooding in many areas.
“Just as Red Cross volunteers have mobilized to provide disaster relief and other emergency assistance, we are mobilizing blood and platelets donations to ensure patients have access to the potentially lifesaving blood products they need,” Geoff Kaufmann, American Red Cross North Central Blood Services Region CEO, said in a statement. “When you donate blood or platelets through the Red Cross, you can help patients in your local community and patients across the country, including those in Hurricane Sandy’s path.”
Dale and Retka will be among the thousands helping with relief efforts, too. Dale said he’s self-employed and has dedicated employees who can pick up the slack while he’s gone.
“It’s good to help people when you have the ability to do so,” Dale said. “That’s part of living in America. We help each other.”
Meyer said the Red Cross will need financial help to fully address the disaster’s need. “This is going to be a very expensive disaster relief operation.”
To donate to American Red Cross, send checks to 105 Homestead Road, Mankato, MN, 56001. You can also donate with credit or debit cards by calling 1-800-RED CROSS or online at redcross.org.