As the rain hammered down outside, Garden City High School was transformed into a giant camp.
The Inez Spiers Auditorium lobby became a cafeteria with people eating “MREs”- Meals Ready to Eat, similar to the military. Carolyn Herbst, a volunteer with the Red Cross, served many MREs Saturday. Marion Wallace from Bayview eyed her cooked packet warily. Herbst said it tasted pretty good.
Chris Sheih from Woodmere agreed that the food was surprisingly decent. Sheih is a Columbia University student who came with his mother and father. The energetic young man spent his time helping the Red Cross volunteers unload newly-sanitized cots from trucks and set them up in the gym. Everyone was assigned a cot and given a blanket when they came in. The gym became one large sea of people, cots, clothes, toys, bags and laptops.
Sheih and his family arrived at noon on Saturday, and not a moment too soon. Odilma Banegas, Jesus Manzanares and a friend of theirs came from Long Beach after being turned away at Nassau Community College since that temporary shelter was already filled to capacity with reportedly more than 1,000 evacuees. When they arrived they saw many friends and neighbors there already.
Juan Vallejo, from Hempstead, has worked for the Red Cross in health and safety since 1998. This weekend he was working in disaster services as manager at GCHS. His youngest son, Stephen, has helped him for the last 10 years. They welcomed people, set up even more cots and showed volunteers how to help. Nancy Morreale was a volunteer for the Red Cross too, in the mental health area.
Marie Destil from Freeport was at GCHS with her two daughters, Joanna (8) and Debra (4), along with her mom and sister. Her husband and father were due to arrive shortly. “This is the first time in my life I came to a Red Cross shelter. It’s super, I like it here and the food is hot,” she said.
Jason Gonzalez is a special education teacher who lives in West Hempstead. The volunteer biked over to the school to volunteer. He stated, “With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming up, it’s important that we help out our fellow man. We all are our brother’s keeper.”