Rows of forest green cots line the gymnasium floor at the First Presbyterian Church at Caldwell, one of many sites hosting shelters around the state in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
But this shelter is not for survivors of the storm. The space is reserved for Red Cross workers deployed to serve in disaster stricken towns around New Jersey. They come from Michigan, Wisconsin and other states, as well as Canada, Mexico and in some cases even further.
“We have to rest, too,” shelter supervisor Ellen Watkins said Friday.
The Red Cross has deployed more than 3,000 workers to New Jersey in response to Sandy, according to a press release. The organization has served more than 3.5 million meals and snacks, performed nearly 12,600 health services and emotional support contacts and distributed more than 562,000 relief items in the state.
Teams are working in affected communities and shelters helping individuals and families through the recovery process.
Watkins arrived in Caldwell a week ago Friday from Mountain City, Tenn. to set up the shelter in Caldwell. At its peak, she said, 130 workers spent the night here.
The mother of three grown children has volunteered with the Red Cross for seven years. She takes sheltering seriously, enforcing a strict 10 p.m. lights out rule.
“I make it mandatory that it’s quiet time,” she said. “They have to get rest.”
In addition to a place to recover, the shelter offers coffee, snacks and somewhere to grab a hot shower, albeit in a trailer parked alongside the church.
David Hess of Kalamazoo, Mich. and Bamby Madson of Eau Claire, Wisc. are just two of the Red Cross volunteers who stayed in Caldwell this past week.
Hess, a med student, and Madson, who is training to be a paramedic, both worked at shelters housing survivors in Washington and Bernardsville.
Madson said she prefers to work shelters because, “You get to talk to everybody. You get to interact with clients and staff.”
When they weren’t working their shifts, she said they gave a boost to the local economy, eating at restaurants, using the nearby laundromat and catching the new James Bond movie at the Caldwell Cinema.
Red Cross workers have to commit to at least two weeks when they are deployed, but even longer is preferred, Watkins said.
She said there is a constant rotation of people coming and going depending on where the needs are.
"You have to be able to do whatever, whenever,” she said.
Support the American Red Cross Disaster Relief by visiting www.redcross.org/charitable-donations, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or texting the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.