This Red Cross Month, we are celebrating the volunteers and services that make our organization special. Throughout the month, we’ll bring you stories of help and hope, bringing to light the people who unselfishly give their time to further the Red Cross mission. Today, we’d like to introduce you to Joe Apicelli who has volunteered with our Disaster Services team for the last 14 years. Read on to find out why Joe became a Red Cross volunteer and how he helps those who have lost everything during disasters.
Hurricane Katrina Makes Landfall
On August 25, 2005, a day after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, Joe remembers watching the devastation from the hurricane unfold on television. The footage was heartbreaking.
When he woke up the next day, he felt an overwhelming desire to help those affected in whatever way he could. So when he saw that the Red Cross was asking for financial donations, he wrote a check and headed straight down to his local chapter in New London, Connecticut. When he arrived, he met Sue Rochester-Bolen, who had no idea that she would change his life forever.
In the chapter office, Joe and Sue witnessed the Lower Ninth break on television. Joe then asked Sue if she needed any help, and she put him to work. That day he took classes in first aid, CPR and mass care. He deployed to Louisiana to help Hurricane Katrina victims days later.
During Joe’s first deployment, he was sent to the Houston Astrodome to work with more than 23,000 evacuees from the Lower Ninth Ward who had no place to go. And from then on, he never looked back. He became a Red Cross volunteer for life.
Making a Difference
Since he started volunteering 14 years ago, Joe has helped disaster victims in many different capacities. Pulling from his background in the restaurant business, Joe has served as a kitchen manager overseeing the delivery of meals, a mass care volunteer feeding victims staying in Red Cross shelters, and as an emergency response vehicle driver serving meals in affected communities. He has also worked in warehouses sorting disaster supplies for victims and at disaster operation centers pulling together logistical plans. No matter the role, Joe is always happy that he can make a difference in people’s lives.
“We’re all from different backgrounds, nationalities, and ethnicities. We live in different neighborhoods. But we’re all one human family. And the suffering that someone goes through can be eased over time with comfort and help. I’m blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives as a volunteer,” said Joe.
Meeting Lifelong Friends
One of Joe’s most memorable experiences during a deployment took place in Chalmette, Louisiana. He deployed there in 2006 where he first met Regina, her husband Jack, and their two young children, Andrew and Alyssa. He was driving an emergency response vehicle when he saw Regina walking her children to the bus stop, so he stopped and handed them some lunch. Joe admired her because of her hope and positive attitude despite the fact that her neighborhood was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Every day after he’d finished the rest of his route, he drove by the bus stop to hand Regina and her kids lunch. He returned home from his deployment six weeks later.
“Well, six weeks came and went and I said goodbye to Regina. It was tearful. It was a hard time to say goodbye. She was a sweetheart. Her children were just four and six years old. And they were just wonderful little people. They didn’t understand the severity of the disaster, but they were just always so happy,” said Joe.
Ten years later, he deployed to Hammond, Louisiana, as a kitchen manager to help with floods in the area. During this deployment he drove to Chalmette to see his old friend Regina again. After a few knocks, she opened the door and was shocked to see a familiar face. The two then reconnected as if no time had passed, and today he still keeps in touch with Regina and her family.
Changing for the Better
Since Joe started volunteering in 2005, he has deployed 43 times during disasters ranging from Hurricane Katrina to the 2018 California Wildfires. And he believes that each experience has helped him become a better person.
“Volunteering has made me a better person, a smarter person. And I can’t think of a better way to grow,” said Joe.
Become a Volunteer
Volunteers like Joe make it possible for the Red Cross to respond to an average of 62,000 disasters each year. You too can make a difference. Visit redcross.org to learn how to become a disaster volunteer.