By Kassie Parisi
ALBANY — Some local Red Cross volunteers are driving right into the devastation to help people in Texas whose lives have been uprooted by Hurricane Harvey.
Mark and Marianne Theophilis, American Red Cross volunteers from Clifton Park, left Albany on Monday afternoon in an emergency response truck that they will drive more than 1,000 miles to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Once there, the married couple of 22 years will stock up on food, water and other supplies, and then hit the road to a still-unknown location in Texas, where they will spend at least 14 days providing whatever aid they can to those trapped in the flooded region.
It is not the first time the Theophilises have been deployed by the Red Cross. They began their volunteer work in 2010, starting local with a drive to Lake Champlain to provide relief after major flooding.
Last year, Mark traveled with Bobby Domanico, a Halfmoon resident, to Louisiana to provide flood relief there. And a few hours after the Theophilises left Albany on Monday, Domanico followed in his own Red Cross truck — also headed to Baton Rouge.
The trip, said Mark Theophilis, will take around three days. The truck was mostly empty, except for their luggage, and would be filled up with food and water upon arrival in Baton Rouge. They are two of 15 volunteers from the Eastern New York Red Cross chapter who have been deployed to provide hurricane Harvey relief. The Eastern New York chapter encompasses 24 counties in the state, but eight of the volunteers are from the Capital District.
The Red Cross has around 300 emergency response vehicles stationed all around the country, and around 150 of them have already been sent to Texas and Louisiana, said Regional Director of Communications for the Red Cross Kimmy Venter. Volunteers, she said, are trained in disaster relief and are part of a national response team, to be deployed anywhere in the country when needed, depending on their respective schedules, she said.
This is the first national response call the Theophilises have been on together, and on Monday afternoon, Mark Theophilis was preparing for an exhausting two weeks.
“It’s a very long, exhausting thing, because it takes a lot of hours to do it,” he said about the Red Cross aid work. “To load up, travel to your location, do the routes, then come back, clean up, reload, and go back and do it again.”
Domanico, who is preparing to be staying in a gymnasium with at least 150 other people for the next 14 days, said he started volunteering with the Red Cross because he wanted to spend his free time and energy doing something that was meaningful to others.
“To me, it’s always been good to help other people,” he said.
Domanico will return after 14 days to take care of personal errands, but he said he would be more than willing to back to Texas, if his help is still needed. He said going to disaster sites can be jarring, and it is difficult to prepare for because he never is quite sure of what he’s going to see. But, he added, the best thing volunteers can do to prepare for disasters is to try to put themselves in the shoes of the people they’re helping.
“Just having the compassion and empathy is the only way to be ready,” he said.