Justin Gachalian

Leah Friel photo lfriel@midweek.com

In late October, nurse aide Justin Gachalian of Kaneohe watched the news as Hurricane Sandy unfolded, seeing it wreak havoc along the East Coast.

As a volunteer with the Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross, Gachalian made a phone call, and by the next day he was scheduled to travel to New York to help with the relief effort and provide aid to victims of the storm.

With a mission of alleviating suffering during emergencies, the Red Cross provides disaster relief, safety training, blood donation and international outreach.

As a member of the Disaster Action Team as a Health Services responder, Gachalian acts as an advocate for individuals who have been affected by emergency situations, including fires or storms like Sandy. If somebody has medication or medical equipment, such as a cane or wheelchair, that gets destroyed in a disaster, Gachalian will work with their doctor, pharmacist or insurance company to help them get the items they need.

Gachalian arrived in New York Nov. 18 and spent his days visiting shelters and homes of individuals and families who had been affected by the storm. He estimates he helped at least four clients a day, addressing their medical needs. While there, he decided to extend his trip to five weeks, and returned to the Islands early last month.

“I liked what I was doing (in New York),” he says. “I enjoyed helping these people out … Sometimes when they found out I am from Hawaii, they were so grateful because I came all the way over there just to help.”

Gachalian had just recently joined the Red Cross before shipping off to New York. A recent nursing school graduate, Gachalian began volunteering with the Red Cross to gain experience and utilize his skills to benefit others.

“If there is a disaster in Hawaii, the Red Cross gets called and we help (victims) out,” Gachalian explains. “I just want to help out anyone I can.

“We try to get them back on their feet. That is what the Red Cross does: When a person goes through a disaster, we try to get them back to where they were before the disaster.”

In joining the Sandy relief effort, Gachalian was one of thousands of Red Cross volunteers from throughout the country, including 47 from Hawaii. According to a recent statement by the Red Cross, the need for aid – including food and longer-term assistance – still remains. As of mid-January, the Red Cross had 1,000 volunteers on the ground and continued to operate feeding stations, serving an average of 33,000 meals and snacks each day. Red Cross volunteers also have been working in local food banks, helping with home repairs and distributing relief items.

For more information about the local Red Cross and ways to help, visit redcross.org/hi/honolulu or call 734-2101.