Student spending holidays feeding Sandy victims

UC Berkeley student Michelle Carney won’t be home for the holidays – she’ll be with the American Red Cross in New York, helping to feed victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Carney left Thursday (Dec. 20) to spend about two weeks on her first deployment as a Red Cross volunteer responding to a national disaster. She is the first volunteer from the campus club to help with Red Cross relief work relating to Sandy.

It was an American Red Cross at Cal table on Sproul Plaza that connected Michelle Carney to the club when she came to Berkeley three years ago. Now she’s on her first Red Cross deployment, helping feed those still in need after Hurricane Sandy.

She is a third-year Cal student and president-elect of the 250-member-strong American Red Cross at Cal, part of the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter (ARCBA). Carney received special Red Cross training in shelter operations and disaster services in January that enabled her New York assignment. So far, ARCBA has dispatched 101 volunteers – counting Carney – in response to Sandy.

“I’m very excited,” said the 20-year-old Carney. “This is my first national deployment and I’m looking forward to learning a lot.”

Tryphena May, thje training and Disaster Services Human Resources coordinator for the Red Cross Bay Area, said Carney was eager and excited to go help those effected by Superstorm Sandy.

“She had been keeping us updated with her dates of availability for about a month so when I called her to tell her their was an opportunity open, she was ecstatic,” said May. “This is our first time deploying a volunteer from a Red Cross Club, so we are glad she stepped up to the challenge. And seeing that it’s the holiday season it made it even more special that she sacrificed her time to help others in need.”

Carney checked in at the Greater New York Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan, where the organization tracks the evolving needs of those affected when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the region in late October. There are still many area residents who are unable to return to their homes, or who remain without power, and she has been assigned to help with mass feeding in the hard-hit Rockaway Peninsula in the New York City borough of Queens.

For Thanksgiving, the Red Cross fed hot turkey dinners to 40,000 people in New Jersey and New York, and distributed about 20,000 boxes filled with food in New York alone.

Carney said she doesn’t mind being away from the Alameda home she shares with her mother. Celebrations with her mother and with her father in Southern California will wait until she returns from her trip to help others. “They understand,” Carney said about her parents.

Although Carney has never been to New York as a volunteer, she says she feels a special affinity for it because of stories her mother has told her of making many childhood visits to her aunt, who lived in the area.

Red Cross at Cal volunteer Michelle Carney.

Carney, who is majoring in cognitive science as well as molecular and cell biology, has been with Red Cross at Cal since first coming to campus as a spring admit from her home in Thousand Oaks.

The list of her Red Cross at Cal-related activities is a long one. For example, she has helped organize campus fundraisers for victims of earthquakes in Japan, Pakistan and Haiti. And Carney helps with the club’s frequent blood drives in the Pauley Ballroom at the Martin Luther King Student Union, which on average collect 300 units of blood –  and save “about 900 lives,”Carney said.

ARCBA Youth Services Director Amy Eernisse-Liang commended Carney for playing “an integral part of the Cal Club’s success in acquiring a place within the National Collegiate Assembly, a group of exemplary university Red Cross Clubs all over the nation, as they serve as  a support system and example for other university Red Cross Clubs.” She said one reason the Cal Club is so successful is due to its structure promoting member engagement  in all lines of Red Cross service.

Carney said she has taught 200 students the Red Cross “Be Ready” emergency-preparedness class, as well as a two-unit DeCal course on the Red Cross. Carney speculated that the need for such training became “really personal” for many students after two apartment fires that happened in Berkeley in a short period in the past year, she said.

“I just want to go and help,” said Carney, whose midterm exams caused her to miss a deployment opportunity that came up in response to tornadoes in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area last April.