By Alex Lippa
---- — As a lawyer, Jonathan Goldfield of Haverhill gets paid to get people out of tough situations.
But in his spare time, Goldfield helps people in a completely different way.
Goldfield has volunteered for the American Red Cross since 1977, helping relief efforts in fires, floods and other natural disasters. He has primarily worked in this region, but recently was deployed to the New York metro area, where he is helping lead the relief efforts for victims of Superstorm Sandy.
“We are going to help them so that their life is not horrible,” Goldfiled said. “We try to improve it immediately and make sure they are clothed, housed and set. We take care of all human needs and also pets that are displaced. We make sure they know where to get help.”
Goldfield spent part of last week at Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y., helping transform a gymnasium into a shelter. When he got to the area at the beginning of last week, the two-floor gym was strictly a dormitory for people who lost their homes to the storm. Goldfield has been working on converting one floor of the gym to an area used to distribute food and recreational items such as books, toys and televisions.
He is also responsible for setting up a system which organizes the way volunteers get to and from the shelters. All of the volunteers sleep off-site and Goldfield is setting up an efficient way to move everyone to their work locations during their stay.
More than 13,000 disaster workers from across the country have come to the New York area to help in the relief efforts. Nearly 2,000 people are still homeless and have been living in shelters for the past month. Volunteers have served more than 7 million meals and have handed out more than 5 million relief items.
“It’s very fulfilling and the people are wonderful,” Goldfield said. “It isn’t all glamorous when running a shelter. It has minimal lights and long hours, but it is gratifying.”
Goldfield’s New York stint is his first disaster relief mission in 10 years. He took that hiatus from disaster work to focus on work and family. Previously, he was a member of the disaster relief team in the north of Boston area and also served on the board of directors for the Red Cross of Northeast Massachusetts.
“I’ve responded to many fires over the years and flooding and Nor’easters that have taken place,” he said. “We helped people with food, medication and other essential needs.”
Volunteers notify the Red Cross of the days and times they are available to help out during emergencies and are called if there is a need for them. Goldfield has been everywhere from three-alarm fires in Boston to major storms along Cape Ann.
While Goldfield was on the 10-year hiatus, he still did seasonal events such as working at the Red Cross station at the Boston Marathon or the Head of the Charles Regatta. It’s not something he considers work. He enjoys doing it.
“I still can picture the smiles of a lot of the people I’ve helped over the years,” Goldfield said. “You can also make friends there that can become lifelong friends, which excites me.”
Goldfield encourages everyone to get involved with the Red Cross and said there is a position in the organization for everyone.
“There are many different specialties, and the Red Cross will train you in everything you need to know,” he said. “It’s just an opportunity for everyone in any walk of life to take their skills to help out.”