SILVER CREEK, N.Y. (WIVB) — In the past week, thousands of volunteers nationwide have dedicated their time to pick up the pieces of Hurricane Ian’s destruction, including 24 Western New Yorkers, who are stepping up to serve.

“You just go where you’re needed and you do what needs to be done,” volunteer Laurie Hagen said.

Hagen and Ron Chwojdak are two volunteers who are putting their lives on hold to go help people who need them. On Sunday, the pair checked off their supply list, packed up an emergency response vehicle, and hit the road.

“Somebody needs to do it.” said Chwojdak, the Chautauqua County Liaison for the American Red Cross. “They’re looking for whatever can help them and we’re happy to provide it — sometimes a hug, a handshake is really all they need.”

Both Chwojdak and Hagen have volunteered their time with the Red Cross for six years, travelling to hurricanes before, they are excited to help in anyway they can.

“Just that emotional feeling for us is what keeps us going,” Hagen said. “Knowing that these people are getting the help that they need and we’re doing all that we can do for them, and it just fills your heart with happiness that you can do this, so that keeps you coming back.”

According to Hagen, they are one out of 100 Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles (ERV) heading down to assist Floridians with clean-up. Without hitting any roadblocks on the way, the drive will take them two days to arrive in Orlando, then they will find out their assigned areas.

Their ERV is designed to help bring hot meals to communities twice a day and to hear what other relief they can bring.

“While we’re serving them their meals, we chat with them and we try to find out what their needs are, and then get people that specialize in that area,” said Hagen. “We definitely listen to their stories, that’s such an important part when you go to these areas, they want to talk, they want to tell you what they’ve experience and that is such an important part to this because that gives them the sense that, ‘Yes, they are listening to me, they really do care.'”

Hagen and Chwojdak plan to be deployed down in Florida for two weeks and encourage anyone who can help to do so.

“I’ve seen what people need, I mean they’ve lost everything, they have nothing — and until you can experience that — it’s really gratifying,” said Chwojdak.

Chwojdak said at both the Red Cross and the volunteer fire department that he is a part of, he’s noticed less and less volunteers willing to donate their time over the past few years. He encourages everyone, especially younger generations, to get involved and help.

“One by one — one person at a time, one volunteer at a time,” said Chwojdak. “If you’re a volunteer, we’ll find a job for you.

For those interested in becoming a volunteer, or interested in donating to the Red Cross relief for Hurricane Ian, head to their website at this link, call 1-800-REDCROSS or text “IAN” to 90999 to make a $10 donation instantly.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.