12/24/2012 6:00:00 AM Superstorm Sandy tests Todd Mosley's first role as Red Cross shelter manager
Philadelphia resident Todd Mosley, center, helped organize a Halloween parade in a Red Cross shelter in Yonkers, N. Y. in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. He quickly won the hearts of all the children including Jaeda Bloomfield, left, and Shaeda Bloomfield, right, whose apartment building caught on fire during the storm.
By DEBBIE BURT MYERS
When Todd Mosley accepted a position with the Red Cross last year, he had vast knowledge of what his responsibilities would be. After all, the Red Cross responds to all sorts of disasters, from tornadoes and hurricanes to fires and flooding.
However, Mosley never really thought about a superstorm or a Nor'easter until his first deployment in October.
Mosley spent three weeks as a Red Cross shelter manager in Yonkers, N.Y., where he and his team witnessed pain and devastation as well as kindness and generosity in the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the subsequent Nor'easter, which left many without electricity, some without homes.
In addition to fulfilling his Red Cross duties, Mosley helped organize a parade inside the shelter on Halloween day for all the children, including two little girls who won his heart.
Among the special guests at the parade was the mayor of Yonkers!
While his job with the Red Cross in Philadelphia includes teaching shelter management classes, Mosley had never managed an actual working Red Cross shelter before going to Yonkers.
At home at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, he received a call from the Red Cross asking if he would be available for a 2 p.m. deployment that afternoon to New York in response to what was then Hurricane Sandy.
At 5 p.m. that day, he boarded a plane from Jackson to Atlanta and then on to LaGuardia Airport in New York.
Mosley spent three weeks at the shelter, housed in the P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) center in Yonkers.
The shelter was home to about 60 people prior to and during the storm. In wake of the superstorm's devastation, 250 were in and out of the shelter during his deployment.
Mosley took his first shower four-and-a-half days after his arrival.
"That was the best hot water ever in my life," he said.
Each person who sought refuge at the shelter had a story to tell but none touched Mosley's heart more than those who were homeless before the storm even hit.
Several others were forced to seek shelter after their apartment building caught on fire during the storm. Another group sought refuge after their building collapsed, in part, during the storm.
Mosley said the P.A.L. center had previously served as a National Guard armory.
"The roof on the inside is wooden and that was a good thing because it gave when the pressure would change during the storm," he said. "It made so much noise I thought the roof would blow off. It was bending and creaking the 12 hours of the storm."
Mosley said his team's biggest challenge was caring for the needs of those with mental health issues.
"There was lots of stress among the people," he said.
Four homeless men, one without shoes, who arrived at the shelter without personal identification, brought an added challenge for Red Cross personnel.
"They didn't have a photo ID," Mosley said. "We have to run basic background checks on everyone who enters the shelter to check for violent crimes or sex crimes."
The homeless shelters in the city were already overflowing with people, many even sleeping on the floors, so there was nowhere else for them to stay, Mosley said.
He quickly contacted his Red Cross leaders in an effort to accommodate the men.
"I told them we had four homeless men here with no IDs and we can't assume they are bad souls and put them out," he said.
Under leaders' directions, Mosley and his team went to every woman and every parent with a child in the shelter and made them aware that there were four men in the shelter whose backgrounds could not be checked.
"Not one person challenged that, not one," he said.
The men slept each night in close proximity to Red Cross staff members.
Despite all the challenges one would expect with so many people under stress inside one facility, Mosley said there were no reports of misbehavior or theft.
Since he and other Red Cross personnel were considered Merchant Marines, they were allowed to vote in the Presidential election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Mosley and his team didn't have to walk very far to cast their ballots as the P.A.L. facility also served as a voting precinct.
"We just got to vote in the Presidential race, nothing else," he said.
Mosley said one of the most memorable moments during his deployment came when some of the children were about to leave the shelter.
"Many of them didn't want to leave," he said. "They were crying. They thought they had been at camp. Their parents told them their electricity was back on at home but they wanted to stay."
When Mosley returned home, he brought with him many friendships that he will always cherish.
There's been a lot of text messaging back and forth in recent weeks, he said.
"The staff became honorary members of the Office of Emergency Management in Yonkers," he said. "They gave us a fleece jacket with a patch that read 'City of Yonkers.' P.A.L. was actually their shelter. We just ran it."