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Studio City's Dennis Hoffman Returns from Helping Hurricane Sandy Survivors in New York

The longtime resident just came back from voluntary “deployment” with the Red Cross to aid displaced victims.

During his two week mission, Dennis witnessed heart wrenching devastation and experienced the transformational effects of helping hundreds of survivors.

Hoffman had no inkling he’d be called to duty so soon after attending the KABC Hurricane Sandy/Red Cross fundraiser at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 2.  Hosted by Garth Kemp along with weatherman Dallas Raines and anchor Michelle Tuzee, approximately $400,000 was raised (see enclosed photo).

Dennis never imagined that part of those donations would be used to send himself and 99 other volunteers from the LA region to NYC, acknowledging he was the sole attendee from the San Fernando Valley.

The day following the fundraiser, during an Emergency Operation Center class through the Red Cross, where Hoffman was involved in a simulated disaster session, he was offered the chance to go on this mission. Dennis didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to go back to his birthplace, where he resided until six years old, before moving to Studio City.

Hoffman’s training for this adventure began last year when he obtained his Community Emergency Response Team certificate at Treepeople. He’s currently finishing levels two and three, presented through the Red Cross. As part of the Disaster Action Team, Dennis is responsible for assessing damage and determining whether food and/or housing might be necessary.

Dennis completed his Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) driver training and therefore, was the perfect candidate to travel to NYC, where 320 ERV’s thus far have been used to feed Hurricane Sandy victims (see enclosed photo).He divulged that, as we speak, the Red Cross is flying in additional ERV’s from Hawaii and Alaska.

Hoffman’s group joined 350 other Red Cross recruits as well as utility and energy workers who restored power and phone lines. There were a total of 1000 volunteers from across the country and around the world, sleeping on cots in the gymnasium of the SUNY Red Cross Center on Long Island (see enclosed photo).

Dennis expressed the challenge of sticking to the strict regiment where lights were out at 10pm and he was awake at the crack of dawn. Sharing bathrooms made it tricky to find time to shower, so he would get up early or wait until late at night for an opening.

However, Hoffman conveyed it was all worthwhile, reflecting on the honor of being able to assist his hometown city, “resembling World War 3.”

The staff shelters were made up of young and old, from all walks of life. Dennis was astounded by the diversity and how everyone got along so well. The reason, he surmises, was that they were bonded by a common purpose, which became the primary and only focus.

Dennis witnessed the gas shortage where people had been waiting for 4 hours or more in lines extending beyond three street blocks long. Many still refuse to leave their homes even though they’re red tagged, i.e. extremely dangerous and life threatening.

Hoffman was shocked to find water six to eight feet deep in places and flooded basements. He was appalled to see streets and whole sections of NYC completely disintegrated.

In Far Rockaway, which he frequented in his youth, the sand and dirt from the beach has flowed into the streets, water is six feet high, and boats with part of the dock attached are floating down the avenues.

Hoffman saw areas that even the media were kept out of e.g. Breezy Point off Long Island. There, a hundred houses burned down to the ground as a result of gas from the water and oil from heaters mixing together and igniting. “You could smell the gas and oil leaks and we had to be careful about where we went.” He indicated many locales remain unsafe.

Residents were allowed to visit their homes in affected areas and to retrieve personal items in four and a half hour increments, as the volatile communities are still subject to possible explosions.

Neighborhoods, patrolled by local citizens concerned about intruders, would watch from their windows for a period consisting of eight hour shifts, attempting to prevent suspicious characters from entering their terrain.

Dennis was impressed with the Red Cross and how it maintains a nondenominational and non political stance. He defines its makeup as “beyond race, creed or color…if you’re prejudice, you won’t make it in the Red Cross.”

Hoffman explained how the program works and the importance of flexibility, which is one of the seven keys of the Red Cross. He was responsible for feeding those in need, driving from town to town, announcing over a loudspeaker that lunch and/or dinner were available.

Dennis never knew how many people he would be providing for and whether or not there would be leftovers. Healthy fare was prepared at five different Southern Baptist Church sites. Each kitchen cooked 5000 meals per day. 

Hoffman confirmed the biggest challenge was throwing out food at the end of the day and knowing donor’s money was being wasted.

Dennis describes his experience as “life altering,” and can’t wait for a second excursion in December or January. It’s expected the services of the Red Cross will be required well into 2013. You can make a contribution by calling 1800RedCross or texting 90999.

Hoffman was happy to come home to warm, comfy Studio City where he was raised. “I grew up in the Dona’s and lived next door to Elroy Schwartz of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ fame.” Dennis is honored to reside in the city where the “Keystone Cops” was filmed.   

He remembers when the 76 Gas Station was at the corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura, now occupied by Studio Yogurt and Daily Grill. Hoffman reminisced about the opening of Teru Sushi, which he alleges is the first of its kind in the Valley.

Dennis praises the benefits of Studio City’s central location. “You can hop on any freeway, shuttle to the Hollywood Bowl, be over the hill in minutes.” Jerry’s Deli is his favorite restaurant, especially considering the fact he learned to bowl at the alley next door, which was then called Kirkwood Bowl.

Comparing the traffic situation between the two cities, Dennis affirms, “I’d take LA traffic any day over NYC. They’re way more aggressive than we are.”

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