Ralph and Phyllis Kreutziger of Marion returned late Saturday from an eight-day service trip to Baltimore, Md., as Red Cross volunteers. They served at an emergency shelter set up at the University of Maryland for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
They received the call shortly before noon Oct. 27 and by 5 p.m. were leaving Wichita on a plane ticket that was “one way only.” They were committed for up to two weeks but did not know when they would return home.
They hastily packed and set out for Wichita. Before going to the airport, they stopped at the Red Cross headquarters in Wichita and picked up the necessary paperwork.
Their airfare and lodging was provided through the Red Cross. They stayed in a motel and worked at the shelter at night.
Wearing identification cards around their necks, the two were charged with preparing the shelter, a large gymnasium, for occupancy. They set up registration tables, and prepared cots, supplying each one with blankets. The cots were grouped into separate sections for men, women, families, and disabled people. A mobile trailer was on hand to handle pets.
Some people arrived at the shelter early the next Monday evening before the storm hit. Others arrived after their houses were damaged or they lost electricity. School had been canceled for the next day, and some college students who couldn’t get home came to the shelter. There were no pets.
Phyllis Kreutziger was walking among the cots when the storm hit.
“When I was patrolling, it sounded ferocious outside and the gym doors were shaking,” she said.
When they returned to their motel the next morning, there was no electricity and no running water. The motel provided light sticks for guests in hallways and rooms.
The Kreutzigers slept some and then returned to the shelter, where they served ready-to-eat meals and snacks and watched over the residents.
On the morning of Oct. 31, people began to leave. By noon, the shelter was closed.
At that point, Ralph and Phyllis switched to disaster assessment.
“We like to do that,” Phyllis said. “We have done that in the past.”
They are suited for the job. With his background in construction, Ralph is an expert at assessing and describing structural damage. Phyllis excels at putting it down on paper.
Equipped with a cell phone and report forms, they headed out to canvass several counties. They talked to people and filed reports. They saw a few trees down and some minor flooding.
“As luck would have it, there was not much damage in the area,” Ralph said.
By Saturday, their job was complete. They were offered the choice to return home or to go to New York or New Jersey. If they went on, they would be required to commit to another two weeks. Because of commitments back home, they decided to come back to Marion, arriving late Saturday.
“It’s neat to get to know a variety of people,” Phyllis said. “It was a very good experience for us.”
A history of volunteering
The Kreutzigers are no strangers to volunteer service. They have participated in six mission trips, and this was the seventh national disaster in which they have been involved.
They joined the Red Cross shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. On a trip to Hutchinson, they dropped off a check at the Hutchinson American Red Cross office. In a departing statement, Ralph said, “Let us know if there is anything else we can do.”
The couple was drafted on the spot. They underwent training in all facets of Red Cross service and then chose the one in which they were interested, service associates.
“This is really good for retired people,” Ralph said.
The American Red Cross collected nearly $35 million in donations by Friday, and another $23 million was raised in a telethon Friday night. The Red Cross and other organizations were operating 123 emergency shelters and were helping to distribute 60 trailersful of relief supplies and an additional 80,000 blankets. The Red Cross was serving hot meals at fixed sites in New York and New Jersey.
Hurricane Sandy is projected to be the biggest Red Cross response in the U.S. in the past five years, with costs in the tens of millions of dollars.
To donate, visit http://www.redcross.org. Call 1 (800) 733-2767, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.