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American Red Cross Santa Cruz County volunteers Sadashiv Mares, Donna Erickson, Terri Foster were deployed to New York City in November to assist in the recovery effort after Superstorm Sandy. (Contributed)

WATSONVILLE -- Three days after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the East Coast, Camilla Boolootian caught a red-eye to New York to help coordinate aid delivered by the American Red Cross.

Janet Packer drove a Red Cross emergency truck across the country, spending five days on the road so she could drive some more delivering hot meals to people whose homes were damaged and without power.

Donna Erickson immediately enrolled in training classes to prepare her for two two-week stints in New York and New Jersey.

The three women were among the 77 volunteers deployed by American Red Cross Santa Cruz County to the East Coast since Sandy struck in late October. They've been nurses and mental health counselors, drivers and case-workers. They've staffed shelters, coordinated volunteers, delivered hot meals and helped victims navigate the paperwork needed to access federal aid.

Boolootian was one of the first on scene, landing at JFK at 5:30 a.m.

"There was little power, long gas lines, and the airport had just opened," Boolootian said. "But four days into it, (Red Cross) already had this whole warehouse organized with all the logistics."

Packer, of Aptos, is a veteran volunteer who helped out after Hurricane Katrina and during Colorado wildfires. The fact that Red Cross can mount extensive relief effort with its network of volunteers is amazing, she said.

"It takes people from all over the country, who probably haven't worked together before, and they work as a team," Packer said.

Boolootian, development manager at the local chapter, said the key is the training, which teaches "the Red Cross way," so everyone is on the same page. It's what enabled Erickson, on her first deployment, to step right into the role of caseworker, Boolootian said.

Erickson said she helped plug uprooted people into services and resources during two weeks in New York City in late November. She returned in January to assist New Jersey residents still in temporary housing find permanent homes. Her task, entering client data collected by caseworkers into computers, was mundane, she said. The stories were anything but. There was, for example, the elderly couple who had sold their home in Florida and bought a condo on the Jersey shore. They lost everything. Back home in Watsonville, Erickson said she wonders how they're doing.

Helping out was "payback," Erickson said. She was 7 when the Feather River broke through a levee on Christmas Eve 1955, killing dozens and forcing thousands to flee, including Erickson's family. The Red Cross provided shelter, hot food and eventually some cash to replace household goods lost in the flood.

"I remember what a difference they made in my life," Erickson said, "and I wanted to help someone else."

Follow Sentinel reporter Donna Jones on Twitter at Twitter.com/DonnaJonesSCS

IF YOU GO

American Red Cross ORIENTATIONS

WHAT: Learn about volunteering at bimonthly orientations
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday and March 13; 6-9:30 p.m. Feb. 28 and March 28
WHERE: 2960 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz
CONTACT: sc-training@redcross.org or 831-600-4911