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Reaching Out to Orlando

A few hours after watching the horrific events unfold this past Sunday, the Greater New York Red Cross Regional CEO Josh Lockwood boarded a plane for Orlando to support the Red Cross response. Josh is assisting regional Red Cross leadership in Central Florida and dozens of volunteers as they work to provide comfort, compassion and love to a community in shock. Communications Officer at the Greater New York Red Cross, Mike de Vulpillieres, took a few moments to talk to Josh about his deployment.

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Are you currently at the Central Florida Red Cross Headquarters in Orlando? Can you talk about your initial impressions since arriving?

Yes, I’m here at the local Red Cross right now. I first want to offer my deepest sympathies to this community and my heartfelt condolences to all who’ve lost loved ones. Being in the family assistance center and being confronted with people who had lost loved ones, all you feel is compassion and empathy. We just wish so much that these folks didn’t have to go through what they’re going through. I’ve also been blown away by the outpouring of love and generosity here as well as the sense of resiliency.

Can you talk about Sunday morning and the process of making yourself available to deploy?

Like so many people, I saw the event unfolding and I was in disbelief. I felt a combination of shock and outrage and sadness that such a massacre would take place. We always, as Red Crossers, have an impulse to want to do something and to help. As a gay man I personally felt an added desire to contribute in a meaningful way. And I was recently asked to be the national sponsor of the LGBT employee and volunteer group at the Red Cross and I now lead this group. It’s such a horrible event and I felt that, given my roles at the Red Cross, I needed to be a part of the response in Orlando. I immediately reached out to my counterparts down here [in Orlando] and to national Red Cross leadership and said I wanted to go. I left for Florida Sunday afternoon. Prior to leaving, my husband and I sat down with our six-year-old son and explained why I was traveling to Florida and why it was important that I do this.

Can you talk about when you first started working with the Red Cross team in Orlando?

red cross orlando shooting comfortI was connecting with people on the ground before I left, while I was in the airport and during my flight. I got to Orlando at 1 AM on Monday. A few hours after arriving, I went to the family assistance center to thank the mental health volunteers who had been working all night and all day to support families grappling with this news. This included many large, close-knit, Latino families with extended families who were being informed one by one, that their loved ones were deceased.

Red Crossers, primarily local mental health volunteers, were supporting these families. I felt good that I was able to provide some thanks and care to them.

Can you talk more about the volunteers on the ground?

There’s a large contingent of LGBT Red Crossers who immediately said that this is personal, who have had a desire and a need to be here at this particular moment. I accompanied many of these volunteers to one of the vigils Monday night and there are going to be more every single night. There’s a feeling of camaraderie and loss and a real sense of mission at a basic humanitarian level but also a camaraderie with the LGBT community at this moment in our nation’s history. There are also a lot of Latino employees and volunteers from the Orlando area and beyond, given that most of the victims of the massacre are Latino.

red cross the center lgbt lgbtq orlando shootingThere are a lot of dynamics at play, some of these young men and women were not out to their families. There are family members realizing their child is an LGBT young person only through their death. To serve these families, Red Cross is partnering with the GLBT Center of Central Florida (The Center) where we are sending mental health volunteers. We developed co-branded signage for families who may feel more comfortable seeing the Red Cross as a traditional place to seek support at this particular moment. We are proud to volunteer with The Center and other organizations like Zebra Coalition, Equality Florida, Children’s Disaster Services and the Orlando Chamber of Commerce to serve the needs right now.

What is important for people to know about the Red Cross work in Orlando?

We at the Red Cross are striving every minute, of every day to meet unmet needs as quickly as possible. We’re doing that by offering services directly, by working with any number of incredible nonprofit and governmental partners. We are working 24/7 to make sure these survivors and families of people who were slaughtered are receiving anything they need that might help them in small and large ways in real time. In an operation like this, it’s about speed and compassion to make sure people are getting what they need, how they need it and from the appropriate person they need to receive it from.

What do you tell people who ask how they can help?

There are a number of things people can do to help at this particular time: they can give financially to one of the funds that has been set up by other organizations; they can learn first aid skills so wherever they are they would feel empowered to act; they can raise their voices in opposition to violence.

After 9/11 many people were shocked by such a terrible thing and felt the need to do something whether it was directly related to that event or just to be a person who had a stake in bettering people’s live around them. One hope I have is that all of us feel motivated to make the world a better place after this life-changing tragedy.

Anything else you want to add?

From social media, to phone calls and emails, so many people have offered words of gratitude or thanks. I really do feel humbled that when something so horrible like this happens, at a time when so many of us want to do something, I feel fortunate to be in a role where I could almost immediately start to have an impact and be productive in trying to help people in this horrible moment.

Following Sandy, 17,000 people came to New York to help. I felt compelled to do the same when called upon. Prior to leaving, I felt supported with really positive New York energy. I feel so much support and love from Red Crossers and from people outside the Red Cross in New York and I’m certainly trying to do my best. I’m channeling this energy here in Orlando.


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A version of this post originally appeared on the Greater New York blog.

Photos courtesy of the Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter.