Ridgefielder lends a helping hand to Florence victims

As Hurricane Florence lashed the Carolinas with rain and flooding when it made landfall on Sept. 14, Ridgefielder Thomas Kimball was one of the many who answered the call to help. The American Red Cross volunteer recently deployed to Wilmington, N.C., in preparation for the storm.

“Right now, my deployment is for sheltering and feeding,” Kimball told The Press by phone on Sunday, Sept. 23. “My job is basically to help people register, and also to get them to available cots.”

He got back to town on Oct. 1, after spending a few extra days assisting a Red Cross Disaster Services Technology (DST) team in North Carolina.

He deployed with the Red Cross on Sept. 11 — 18 years to the day since he assisted the New York Guard following the attacks on the World Trade Center.

For Hurricane Florence, he worked at three shelters all operated out of local schools.

Providing food for Florence’s victims was not a problem, as most of the cafeterias at the schools were open and operational, Kimball said. His day-to-day job involved unloading relief supplies trucked in — MREs, cots, bottles of water, and making sure those in his care were looked after. The job included everything from issuing Red Cross comfort kits when people arrived, helping people in and out of wheelchairs, and even getting people an extra blanket.

“A lot of them have lost everything, their houses have been flooded out,” Kimball told The Press. “One gentleman said his house had burned.”

By the Red Cross’s own reporting, more than 1,660 people were sheltered by the organization in the Carolinas.

This was Kimball’s third deployment for disaster relief. He previously took part in relief efforts for Hurricane Irma in Florida in 2017, and was going to go to Puerto Rico after that but was diverted at the last minute.

Community helper

Kimball graduated from Joel Barlow High School in Redding in 1989. Since moving to Ridgefield, he’s been active in the community, volunteering at the town’s health department, where he said Health Director Ed Briggs — also a Red Cross volunteer — “took me under his wing.”

He also volunteers at ROAR, and both the Ridgefield Social Services food bank and the Connecticut food bank.

“He helps out where he can,” said Briggs, who is also a member of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. He said Kimball typically helps the department run health clinics for vaccinations, and that he’s trained in emergency radio communications.

Florence had wreaked havoc on the Carolinas; in five days, releasing over 10 trillion gallons of water on the states, the Red Cross reported. Between 8,000 and 10,000 homes were estimated to have been destroyed by the storm’s destructive path.

Kimball said the best way to make a donation is to text REDCROSS to 90999, to give $10 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps people affected by the hurricane.

He said a $20 donation is enough to purchase a comfort kit — the basic hygiene kit disaster victims are given when they arrive at a shelter.

Kimball noted he wouldn’t have been able to help out in North Carolina if his parents hadn’t offered to watch his pets.

Sometimes the job is about just comforting people in need.

“What’s interesting is when you’re doing sheltering, you’re interacting with the clients,” said Kimball, “[you] really try to just be a good listener.”

Residents can also donate to Florence relief efforts at: redcross.org/donations/ways-to-donate/text-mail-phone.html.