There are many grassroots organizations and foundations involved in the Hurricane Sandy relief effort. But when people in Dubuque or San Antonio or Detroit want to donate, they probably don't know the local groups. So they might give to the Red Cross. The international organization's initial response to the hurricane has been questioned and its relief efforts are ongoing. NY1's Budd Mishkin recently spent some time with the man running the New York area operation, Joshua Lockwood, and filed the following "One On 1" report.
Joshua Lockwood is a busy man. As the relatively new CEO of the Greater New York Area Red Cross, he's been visiting distribution sites, checking on the Red Cross's meal preparation area at Aqueduct and visiting places all around New York still feeling the effects of Hurricane Sandy.
"I was out in Coney Island going door to door in hi-rises with our Red Cross volunteers. And we were finding folks who when they turned their faucets on, they were still having sand and sewage coming out of their faucet," Lockwood says.
He enjoyed a successful six years running the local operation of Habitat for Humanity before joining the Red Cross in June 2012 -- a ride that has not been as smooth in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Many hurt by Sandy have criticized the Red Cross for not being on the scene quickly enough after the storm.
"Having been out in the field, me and my team have tremendous empathy for those people. We get it. People are frustrated. They want to have their needs met," says Lockwood. "Are we able to be at every street corner in all of the affected area all the time? Not necessarily. We're a big organization with a big reputation. And so I understand that there are going to be times when folks say can the Red Cross do this or that, or be there, or do this kind of different activity which may or may not be something that is part of our mission."
Perhaps the best known symbol of the frustration with the Red Cross was a tirade only days after the storm by Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro who said, "My advice to the people of Staten Island. Do not donate to the Red Cross."
"He was doing what any strong elected official should do which is advocating for his community and I’ve volunteered with him a bunch since then and had public events with him and he’s been incredibly gracious and I think his frustrations sort of speaks to the frustrations that a lot of people had in those moments," Lockwood says.
Molinaro has subsequently praised the organization for its Sandy relief efforts, after his initial disappointment. Views of the Red Cross’s performance largely depend on whom you talk to. Some say the Red Cross was out there early on. But many others say they weren't, speaking either from first hand experience or from a perception that the well funded national organization did not do as well immediately after the storm as it should have.
"Once that story is set, that it sorta plays out again and again. I would say in our going out every day and delivering supplies and meals and basic needs, that we are working incredibly collaboratively with folks. We hear tremendous appreciation for what we are doing. Not that there isn't some mending fences that sometimes need to happen to get over that initial frustration," Lockwood notes.
Lockwood says the Red Cross is still focused on delivering meals and supplies, as of early December, 3.4 million meals and 4.4 million relief supplies. The organization is also providing physical and mental health services. Until its current response operations slow done, the Red Cross will not be conducting a full internal review of its post-Sandy relief efforts.
Part of his job is boosting morale. Lockwood oversees an operation with 100 employees and thousands of volunteers who have left their homes and their families to come help New York. And he is passionate in their defense.
"All of our volunteers and our staff are trained disaster responders. Most of them have experienced other large disasters and been a part of it so they know a little bit about that there’s going to be criticisms along the way," Lockwood says.
Lockwood first came to New york in the mid 90's to go to graduate school at Columbia, then worked for a management and real estate consulting firm before heading up the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity for six years. He grew up in the small upstate town of Hamilton, the son of a pastor and school teacher.
"Tremendous values of being a progressive person were instilled in me and my four siblings growing up. And having a life of service in some fashion. That's stayed with me," Lockwood recalls.
As Lockwood began to respond to the storm, he suddenly had to deal with a more personal tragedy. Only two days after Hurricane Sandy hit, his father died unexpectedly.
"I don't want to equate my situation at all with folks who are suffering out in New York. I think in certain situations like this you put the emotions in a box and when the time is appropriate you have to then work with your family and friends to go through that," Lockwood says.
At Habitat for Humanity, Lockwood was credited with more effectively adapting a model to New York City by building more multi-family structures. But there is one question he often hears now that he likely never heard at Habitat for Humanity: Where does all the money go?
"Meals, shelter, bulk supplies, the comfort kits that are toiletries and blankets, and clean up kits which are gloves buckets and cleaning materials and then mental health counseling and physical health checkups," says Lockwood. "We’ll expend up and down the eastern seaboard $100 millions, really well over $100 million on the response alone. Beyond the response, if there is money left over, the money stays here. It honors donor intent and it funds that recovery phase."
Lockwood knows that the criticism of the initial Red Cross effort is a subject that will likely not go away. But he says he and his team are focusing on the task still very much at hand.
"To get too bogged down on what this person might have tweeted or what this organization might have said about you I think that can be...you can only focus on the glass being half empty if you're not careful," says Lockwood. "And so what we try to do is recognize we’re not perfect that there’s always room for improvement but celebrate what we’re doing well."