AFTER THE STORM:
Port woman aids hurricane victims
PORT DEPOSIT — After storms like Hurricane Florence sweep through communities and leave flooded homes and displaced families in their wake, people like Rosemarie O’Brien are there to help pick up the pieces.
O’Brien, a volunteer with the American Red Cross from Port Deposit, boarded a plane to North Carolina at the end of September to help people find a little hope in the aftermath of the storm.
“When Florence hit, I just knew I needed to go to help out,” she said.
O’Brien is a retired teacher, having taught for 32 years at the University of Portland in Oregon, Los Angeles schools, San Diego schools, and even homeschooling her own grandchildren before they entered the public school system.
Before Florence, O’Brien was deployed to Texas to help people recover from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
As a member of the Red Cross for the past two years, O’Brien specializes in mass care and sheltering, and has received training in a variety of other areas.
O’Brien said she would be helping people receive the resources they need while being sheltered.
“I will be working in the shelter, making sure people have sleeping arrangements, comfort kits, pillows and blankets, things like that,” she said.
The shelter also provides other resources such as breakfast, lunch, dinner and 24-hour snacks to make sure people are able to eat; medical assistance for anyone who sustained injuries during the disaster or who has an ongoing medical condition; and spiritual care, according to O’Brien.
“We take care of all of that,” she said. The Red Cross runs the Pillowcase Project, which recently partnered with Disney and educates children about what to pack in case of emergencies ranging from hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, severe winter storms and other disasters.
“We have character pillowcases that we give to the students along with the workbook, and then they can put in information or items that they would need to take with them if they had to evacuate,” O’Brien said.
The Pillowcase Project is actually what got O’Brien involved with the Red Cross.
“I started doing pillowcase projects in the elementary schools and participating in ‘Sound the Alarm,’ where we find out if people need smoke detectors in their homes and then we, along with the fire department, go into homes to put up smoke alarms for people for free,” she said.
O’Brien is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta, the largest black sorority in the world with over 200,000 members, where she is the chair of the emergency response team for the sorority in Harford and Cecil counties and a representative for the sorority in the Eastern Region. The sorority has also partnered with FEMA and the Red Cross to further achieve its mission of public service.
Although O’Brien is one of the sorors who traveled to North Carolina to assist with the relief efforts, she said there are many others who are ingrained in the communities they are aiding.
“We train our members so that when a disaster happens, they’re right there and they know the community to be able to help out,” she said.
While many people would love to travel hundreds of miles to help people whose lives have been rocked by natural disasters, O’Brien acknowledged that not everyone has the ability to do so. But she said those kind souls don’t have to fly all the way to North Carolina to lend a helping hand.
“They don’t necessarily have to go to another state,” she said. “There are lots of things they can do right in their own city and community.”
Some of those things could include participating in telethons to ask for donations and running information tables to educate people about how to prepare for emergencies well before disasters strike.
O’Brien said she wants people to realize that the Red Cross is run by volunteers, and that everyday citizens can get involved with the organization.
“People train for the various positions, and there are a lot of ways that people can volunteer for the Red Cross so that when an emergency happens, they can fulfill the need,” she said.
American Red Cross volunteer Rosemarie O’Brien pets a therapy dog’s paw during her 2017 deployment to Texas for the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.