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Wauwatosa residents help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts

Nov. 7, 2012

Wauwatosa residents took the call to help Hurricane Sandy victims before the hurricane landed on shore.

Two residents, Terri Leece, emergency disaster services director for The Salvation Army in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, and Bob Phelps, an emergency response vehicle (ERV) driver for the Red Cross, have experience and drive to help those in affected regions.

Leece, who has helped other disaster victims, including those affected by 9/11, has been on the ground helping Hurricane Sandy victims since the day before the storm touched land. Most of her days helping are spent in conference calls with other organizations and FEMA directing assistance to areas and people that need it most.

The biggest need on the ground at the moment is feeding and sheltering those displaced by the storm. Leece said most victims are staying in their homes without power or food.

"There's a huge need in New Jersey and New York so we're really gearing together to give enough to fill kitchens in our global feeding areas," she said. "We're talking hundreds of thousands who need help."

Bob Phelps, a retired psychiatric social worker, took up driving the ERVs after he drove meals from his church to areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. This will be his eighth deployment to help those affected by disaster.

An ERV is a mobile kitchen the size of an ambulance. One ERV can feed 400 to 500 people before needing to fill back up at a local Red Cross kitchen. The vehicle can also give out basic supplies such as clothing or materials for cleaning up damaged areas.

Most of what Phelps does is driving to areas hard-hit to give victims fresh meals. He and another volunteer will use a microphone to call out their fresh meals, which are styled after military rations.

Phelps joked that people's reaction to the food is positive for the first couple of days. He joked that people get tired of the meals and start asking for something different after a while.

While the reactions to his food are overwhelmingly positive, Phelps noted that sometimes the stress can get to people. He said that there have been rare scuffles over people cutting in line or other small infractions. When those happen, Phelps and his volunteer partner have to serve as mediators and defuse the situation.

Phelps said his main satisfaction from volunteering was meeting people, adding, "It's a bond that you form particularly if you're going back to the same area every day. You get to know the people and you talk and listen to them. You can even joke around a little bit. Laughter is a great medicine."

To help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, call 1 (800) 199-81611 or text the word "Redcross" to 90999 to make a $10 donation. To donate to the Salvation Army, call 1 (800) 185-8163 or visit salvationarmyusa.org.

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