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'We Didn't Expect So Much Kindness'
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Glenda Plunkett
April 30, 2007

José, 26, and Melissa, 25, Mendez of Manville, N J, paced the floor most of the night on April 15th. The rivers and streams had swollen beyond their banks and were rising quickly throughout the day. The couple drove all but one of their families’ vehicles to the high school parking lot to keep them safe. They left the family minivan out in front of their home in case they needed to evacuate their new home of 10 months.

Red Cross Volunteer Carol Ruddich comforts José and Melissa Mendez at Manville Service Center.
Red Cross Volunteer Carol Ruddich comforts José and Melissa Mendez at Manville Service Center.
Photo credit: Glenda Plunkett

The couple prepared as best as possible for the impending flood. The Mendez family is like many these days, a blended family of eight, five of whom are children under the age of ten. Several of their children’s bedrooms were in the basement a long with Melissa’s 16 year-old brother. Everyone who slept in the basement including their bedding was moved to the first floor of the home to double up with the rest of the family.

Meanwhile the adults remained vigilant. They watched as the water rose from an inch to two inches in the streets and then started to rise in their basement. They watched the water climb the stairs. First it reached the second stair, then the fifth stair, finally all eight. Then it began to overtake the first floor. José raced to check the van out front of their home. The water was wheel high.

All night long the couple comforted their children by keeping them on the second story of the home. They only told their eldest daughter the grave news, trying to spare the younger children from fear. Now they hurried to get the children dressed and out the door for evacuation. By the time the couple returned to the front door with their family the water was half way up the van’s door. It was 3 a.m. and the threat was growing by the minute to the Mendez, their home, and their neighborhood. He yelled for Melissa to call 911 to rescue them.

While being rescued by boat, the couple heard screams for help from their neighbor. She is pregnant and was changing her baby when the flood waters claimed her foundation collapsing three walls of her home. Screaming, “Save my baby, save my baby”, she plunged into chest high water holding her baby over her head. Neighbors pulled her and her child to safety.

View from Mendez front door just before rescue. Notice the mailbox in the front yard and the realtor sign next door. Their neighbors were to close their home's sale that very afternoon.
View from Mendez front door just before rescue. Notice the mailbox in the front yard and the realtor sign next door. Their neighbors were to close their home's sale that very afternoon.
Photo credit: Mendez family

Two more houses’ foundations fell victim to collapse and they sadly passed the house next door to theirs. The neighboring house had been for sale, and the new buyers were to close on the sale that very afternoon. Now the Mendez wondered if it would ever sell.

Next stop was the local VFW hall, now hosting a Red Cross shelter.

“The shelter was wonderful!” said José, “they were fantastic to my kids. There were Dunkin’ Donuts and fresh, hot coffee for breakfast. For a guy who had been up all night long that was great!”

Melissa continued, “The back room of the shelter was converted into a playroom for the kids. The little ones didn’t seem to even realize they were in a shelter. I just can’t get over how much Red Cross has done for us.”

Melissa went on to say that, “When we returned home 24 hours later it was still standing much to our relief. The Red Cross opened a distribution center where we received bleach, buckets, squeegees, and mops. Then they encouraged us to come to a Red Cross service center for help. The workers were so courteous to us, so respectful.”

José added, “Everywhere we look, we see the Red Cross assisting us. They were up and down the streets bringing food, knocking on doors to ask if we were okay, and bringing in more supplies. We needed them, too. Everything began to mold. My little boy couldn’t understand why I threw away his toys.” As he tears up, he said, “My daughter’s frightened each time it begins to rain. She is afraid that we will have to be rescued by boats again. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. Without my family, friends and the Red Cross, I just don’t know how it would have worked out.”

José continues, “I never really understood how much the Red Cross brings to the community before. You don’t see them on commercials promising the world but when your world falls apart they are on your door step when you need them the most!”

Melissa chimed in about the service center, “We thought we might receive a box of food here. Caseworkers worked with us. With Red Cross’ help we will be able to replace our beds now. My kids won’t have to sleep on the floor. We received so much more than money. We never expected so much kindness.”

All American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. You can help the victims of thousands of disasters across the country each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, which enables the Red Cross to provide shelter, food, counseling and other assistance to victims of disaster. The American Red Cross honors donor intent. If you wish to designate your donation to a specific disaster, please do so at the time of your donation. Call 1-800-REDCROSS or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Contributions to the Disaster Relief Fund may be sent to your local American Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P. O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. Internet users can make a secure online contribution by visiting www.redcross.org.

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