By Sara Smith
Early in the afternoon just one day after a blizzard socked the Northeast, four young men in Navy uniforms have formed a human chain. They’re carefully tossing boxes into a Red Cross trailer parked outside Gaudet Middle school in Middletown, R.I. Adrian Chinnery, Jared Hachmeister, Brody Samaha and Paul Weatherford, all candidates and students at the nearby Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS), joke about the weight of a bag filled with Styrofoam containers as they toss it down the line, while also reminding each other to watch their footing on the snow-covered pavement.
Through a special partnership with the American Red Cross Rhode Island Chapter, 23 candidates from NAPS volunteered their time, skills and muscle to help set up, staff and close the shelter in Middletown. Shelter manager Carmela Greer considers them an irreplaceable asset, noting, “I couldn’t have done this without them. It was literally like having the Navy come in and assist with a big emergency.” She was struck by the candidates’ professionalism and compassion, both on vivid display at the shelter as some sat with elderly residents through the night, offering conversation and a distraction from the fierce weather. Other candidates played games with young children whose families’ homes had lost power. “They helped serve meals, comfort residents and anything we asked of them. They were so great,” Greer gushed. “I would be in traction doing all this if it wasn’t for them.” Their assistance was certainly needed; the Gaudet Middle School shelter in Middletown served as many as 344 local residents during the storm, eclipsing the population of the eight other R.I. shelters opened in response to the February blizzard. Families, elderly and residents with special needs were kept warm, comfortable and well fed as they waited for power and heat to be restored.
Placing the last box of supplies into the Red Cross trailer, the four candidates talk about how great it was to be able to help with the response to the storm. As they catch a ride back to NAPS, Carmela appreciatively warns them that they may be called upon again. All four smile, laugh and accept the challenge.