April 8, 2015
In February 2014, when the region was crippled by snowstorms followed by severe ice storms and cold, the Red Cross opened emergency shelters. With nearly 90 percent of Chester County residents experiencing power outages of various durations, the Red Cross partnered with West Chester University to open a “mega shelter” on South Campus.
For the effort put forth in that situation by WCU administrators, staff, faculty and student volunteers, the American Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania recognized West Chester University at its 2015 Chester County Heroes Breakfast on April 8.
A corps of students including Hannah Caplan and Ezekiel Robinson (pictured, with Don Verdiani, Chester County Disaster Action Team member, Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania) pitched in to set up and outfit cots in Sturzebecker Health Sciences Center. They worked in shifts to help greet and comfort the shelter’s temporary residents and provide a guiding hand to navigate the process and the large building. Students also stayed after everyone had returned home to help break down the site. Caplan and Robinson themselves logged more than 90 volunteer hours at the shelter, which was open for eight days and served more than 200 people. A separate facility on campus housed about 30 pets.
The University also provided personnel from security and facilities management to keep the shelter safe and clean.
On hand from the University to accept the Red Cross recognition were President Greg Weisenstein; Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Michael Bicking; Emergency Management and Electronic Security Manager John DiSpaldo; and Director of Service Leaning and Volunteer Programs Jodi Roth-Saks; as well as Caplan and Robinson.
Bicking and DiSpaldo in particular were instrumental in streamlining the shelter set-up and operation. They also attended after-action meetings and are working with the Red Cross and Chester County Emergency Management in preparation for future emergencies.
Denise Graf, the Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania Chester County Disaster Team Captain, was only one of many Red Cross officials to praise West Chester students. While working at the shelter one day, she noted that when she passed the area where the cots were set up, one WCU student was comforting a very upset older woman. When Graf passed by again an hour later, the student was still talking with the woman, who appeared calmer, more relaxed and comforted.
The Heroes Breakfast was presented by the Chester County Leadership Council, a group of local professionals who volunteer in raising funds and awareness for the local Red Cross.
Watch WCU's behind-the-scenes work during the ice storms: