Louisiana communities ravaged by Hurricane Laura last month are getting a helping hand from Long Island volunteers with the Red Cross, bringing food and vital aid to desperate residents amid a pandemic.
Volunteers said since the day after the Category 4 storm made landfall on Aug. 27, they’ve been bringing food and other supplies to sweltering neighborhoods with trees through roofs, downed utility lines, no power, cellphone reception or, in some cases, running water.
When Red Cross volunteer Nick Montoro, 22, of Syosset, drove through the town of Sulfur, near Lake Charles, he saw a man in a car, sweating, who couldn’t catch his breath. Heat and humidity has made temperatures there feel like 101 to 108 degrees.
Driving a truck full of hot meals with a partner, Montoro stopped. The man had a tree through the roof of his house. They gave him a case of water and hot meals for his family.
“He just broke down” in gratitude, Montoro recalled Sunday.
Since Aug. 28, Montoro has been delivering hot food between Baton Rouge and Lake Charles — a drive that can take two to five hours each way.
Volunteering with the Red Cross is in his blood. His father, Sal Montoro, is a Red Cross mass care chief, one of only about 15 volunteers in the United States who help assess and coordinate response to disasters like hurricanes.
Nick Montoro said after graduating from the University of Delaware this year and applying for jobs, he jumped at the opportunity to help Louisiana residents.
Sal Montoro, who stayed in Syosset after getting his appendix removed last week, said: “It’s something I always hoped he’d do one day. I didn’t want to push him, or tell him he had to do it.”
His advice to his son before leaving: First, be safe. Second, ”remember what you’re there for — to alleviate the suffering of people,” Sal Montaro said. “It’s not easy putting a total stranger ahead of yourself. As he’s learned now, the feeling of doing that is just enormous.”
Nick said, “People are so grateful. They haven’t eaten a hot meal in two or three days. I’m just happy to help and serve where I can.”
Neela Lockel, CEO of the American Red Cross on Long Island, said they see entire families become involved in volunteer efforts. “They put all of themselves into it. It becomes a lifestyle,” she said.
Many of the agency’s volunteers are retirees, who are at greatest risk because of COVID-19 and have to help remotely. Additionally, the public attention on the presidential election has taken the focus off the storm's impact.
“Hurricane Laura was a really huge event. It has not garnered as much attention,” Lockel said.
Laura made landfall on the border of Texas and Louisiana, pulverizing buildings and leaving at least 25 people dead. “It's so important to understand these disasters are impacting real people, real communities. Just because it isn’t here, it’s still our neighbors,” Lockel said.
Eileen Saccoccio, a 59-year-old Holtsville retiree, has also been in Louisiana since Aug. 28, helping with food delivery. "Right now, in Louisiana, the people have a desperate need," she said. "They're waiting for power to get back on. They're lining up for food. We're providing as many meals as we can."
"You want to help. You wish you could do more," she said. "I've lived a good life. My kids are grown, and I wanted to give back."