Socorro native helps in hurricane relief efforts

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Kenner Army Health Clinic's Jerry Silva answered the call when the American Red Cross asked for volunteers to assist the storm-ravaged Northeast.

Silva was born and raised in Socorro, son of Nicanor and Edith Silva, both deceased, and now lives in Hopewell, Va., where he works at Kenner Army Health Clinic.

An office assistant in information management for the military treatment facility, Silva said he went back to Virginia after helping in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, knowing he gave it his all after spending more than three weeks helping relief efforts in the Bronx Borough, N.Y.

Silva departed Virginia on Nov. 3 for the New York City area to help with recovery and cleanup efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

Silva said he slept on a cot in a school gym at Lehman College with other volunteers in the same conditions many New Yorkers found themselves.

"Showers were hard to come by," he said. "And so was sleep."

Silva was assigned to the mass care portion of the recovery. He said he awoke many mornings as early as 4 a.m. to prepare shelters for families and prepare food.

Working with displaced people who had been homeless, were in assisted living facilities, had special needs and others, Silva was also able to help connect people with their families. He worked primarily with Hispanic families as he was able to translate information for them and understand their needs.

"There were 15 to 17 families who needed assistance as far as translation," Silva said. "Every day I would go out and see what everyone in the families needed. I helped them with the location of family members."

Families were separated to different shelter locations, Silva said. A truck would show up to pick people up and those who could get into it would be taken to one place. Those who couldn't — who needed wheelchairs or other help to get around — were taken to another location.

"Every morning I would go find them the Spanish language newspapers," Silva said. "One man even called me his nieto — grandson. I feel, personally, I was able to assist in lifting their spirits."

Many of the people at the shelter were brought in because of the cold weather, he said. They had no electricity.

"The hardest part for me was to try to keep their spirits up," he said. "It's the way we were raised in Socorro — to care for family, friends and neighbors."

Silva loves to be able to help others.

"Volunteering is my passion," he said. "Anything from Red Cross events to helping our military via the USO or feeding the less fortunate with food drives and our annual Thanksgiving Day meal … is the Silva-thing to do."

Silva said the Bronx community made him feel welcome and went out of their way to thank him for his efforts.

"The storm survivors have been devastated, yet they continue to thank us for our support," he said. "Their spirit is amazing."

Silva has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2000 and is certified to drive the emergency response vehicles. He said he put those skills to good use while deployed.

"This storm devastated portions of the Caribbean, the mid-Atlantic and the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada," he said. "Because Sandy was so destructive, it's likely the name will be retired, and there will never be another hurricane named Sandy. On the other hand, I am ready and willing to serve whenever the call comes."

Robin Engel, with the Red Cross, called Silva a compassionate, hardworking peacemaker.

"To the many people he has touched during this disaster, co-workers and the people in need, he is simply an 'angel,'" Engel said.

Tereasa Wade, Kenner Army Health Clinic public affairs officer, contributed to this report.

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