To the Rescue
Gene Pavone of Carolina Shores travels the country volunteering in disaster situations with the American Red Cross.
“A disaster is a disaster,” Eugene “Gene” Pavone says. “The floods. The hurricanes. The fires. They’re all bad.”
Pavone, 71, has seen these catastrophes up close since 2012 when he became an American Red Cross volunteer and was deployed to New York after Hurricane Sandy hit. “This is kind of paying back,” he says.
Volunteers not only remove debris, provide shelter and distribute food to survivors, but also console people as they relate agonizing stories. “You’ve got to listen and let them cry,” Pavone says. “I will live to be 100 years old and never forget their stories.”
He comforted one New York family who saw the first floor of their home flood. Yet the patriarch of the Jewish family told Pavone that as a boy in Germany, he escaped to a safe house when he saw the Gestapo lining up his parents and siblings in front of their home. “I never saw them again,” the man said. Another woman told Pavone she had buried her husband a week before Sandy came through.
At Paradise, California, in 2018 he worked for one month at a fairground, helping set up a family shelter. “All those people lost everything,” he says. “They may find a burnt piece of jewelry and put it in a sandwich bag or something that didn’t melt in the fire.” He pauses. “All your memorabilia is gone.” The fires in California continue, and he returned there October 1 to assist still more people.
A native of Canastota, New York, Pavone relates that as a young child a fire started in his family’s basement. “I remember crawling under the bed,” he says. “Someone came in and yelled for me. I was crying under the bed, but they got me and took me out.”
Pavone, who plays Santa Claus in real life around the holidays, stayed one month in Louisiana when Hurricanes Laura and Marco hit. He served three meals a day and took extra time to give children donated toys and elderly people blankets and coats. “You make them feel safe and taken care of,” he says.
The people appreciate what he does. Pavone says he was astonished one day when a man in New Orleans brought him a dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes and beans he had cooked himself. Two little girls gave him a card that said “Life is a magic carpet ride, Valentine.”
“Gene is a wonderful volunteer,” says James Jarvis, executive director of the Cape Fear Area Chapter of the American Red Cross. “He excels at providing care and comfort to those who have lost everything. He always has a positive attitude. There is no task he can’t do, and he is glad to do it.”
Pavone worked when Lumberton flooded and Hurricanes Michael and Florence came through the Wilmington area. He loaded and unloaded trucks at a warehouse and delivered emergency supplies to families. Each night he returned to his Carolina Shores home after working 12-hour shifts and kept that pace for six weeks.
“The worst is not being able to help someone,” he says. In New Orleans one girl didn’t belong in the shelter but hung around it. Pavone knew instinctively that she was homeless and hungry. “There are always more meals, so I handed her a few meals and water and snacks,” he says. “That’s the saddest part. They have nothing.”
What does his wife, Roberta, say about his long deployments? “She understands,” Pavone says and recommends others consider volunteering for American Red Cross.
“Anyone bored and looking for something to do that’s meaningful, I’d like to see them join the Red Cross and volunteer,” he says. “It’ll be a good feeling to experience helping people, and it’ll give them something to do.”
Can you help?
Volunteer for the American Red Cross
1102 S. 16th Street, Wilmington