Even small contributions were important

Published 9:07 pm Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Now that most folks in Suffolk have had their electrical power reconnected in the wake of Hurricane Irene, and with piles of yard debris lining the city’s roads, many people have turned their attention to the stories of those who lost so much more than just electricity when the storm blew through.

In North Carolina, residents and property owners came back to the Outer Banks to find their homes destroyed and access to parts of Hatteras Island blocked by washed-out roads. In New Jersey, upstate New York and Vermont, residents have sought higher ground as rising floodwaters displaced them from their homes and cut off entire towns.

The images are disturbing, and they should give us perspective on the hardships of a few days without electricity. Some people, however, are galvanized into action by the images. Volunteers from all over the nation have been headed to the East Coast to help emergency aid organizations like the American Red Cross provide much needed relief to people throughout the hurricane-battered region.

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The Red Cross alone has opened 353 shelters, providing 42,701 overnight stays, according to information provided on its website. Red Cross officials have provided clean-up kits, comfort kits and bulk items such as outdoor work tools, bottled water and hand sanitizer. And those who suffered major losses from the storm have been able to access mental and physical health services through the organization.

Suffolk had a little more than $2 million in damage from Irene, a mere drop in the bucket to the $7 billion to $10 billion that insurance officials estimate will have been lost altogether along the East Coast. Understanding, though, the every personal loss hits with the force of overwhelming reality, the Red Cross has even been busy right here, providing meals and snacks to people in the community as they clean up their yards and as they go days without power.

It’s easy when we’re caught up in the turmoil of a disaster right here at home to miss the opportunity to say thanks to the people who’ve come here to help us get back on our feet. And some might be tempted to minimize the importance of the organization’s work in a community that suffered so little, relatively speaking.

But the fine volunteers who have come to Suffolk and the surrounding area in the wake of Irene to do even the smallest good deeds deserve our gratitude and our praise. And they should never feel that their contributions were unnecessary or unappreciated.