In the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy, tens of thousands of people pitched in to help their neighbors and communities – and many people continue to help with the rebuilding efforts today. Their individual and collective generosity of spirit was and is truly remarkable. In honor of their service, Repair the World is interviewing people who saw a need, stepped up and made a difference. Check back often to find more stories and interviews!
What compelled you to serve in the days after Hurricane Sandy?
Honestly, at first there was literally nothing else to do but help. There was no electricity in much of the city, and we couldn’t take the train to go anywhere. Because my house never lost power, my girlfriend and I watched streaming Sandy coverage on TV and saw the growing devastation. After two straight days we were like, “Okay, we have to do something.” So we got on our bikes and headed to the financial district in Manhattan – that is where we first saw how crazy everything was.
We logged onto the Occupy Sandy relief website and saw they were doing a supplies collection at a church in Sunset Park. We helped out there for a day taking in donations and sorting supplies. It was good to be doing that work, but we wanted to do something more hands on. So for the next three days straight we drove out to the Rockaways.
What was the experience like?
It was really unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was not in New York during 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina felt very far away and removed from my life. But getting to the Rockaways for the first time was a shock. It’s where I go to the beach every summer, so I had a distinct picture of it in my head. But when we arrived there were cars haphazardly placed wherever they’d landed when the water receded. The beach parking lot was filled with rubble. Driving through the Rockaways people looked tired and exhausted. There were so many people who needed help and supplies – so many children. I have travelled through developing countries before, but I had never experienced that kind of desperation so close to home.
What did you do while you were there?
We kept heading back to a location run by Occupy. They were there as the main organizers, but I liked that location because there were a lot of local people and community leaders involved. The first day, we directly handed goods to people who needed them. I was in charge of the personal hygiene section so someone would say, “I need a toothbrush or soap,” and I’d give it to them. The last few days my partner and friend climbed up and down 28 flights of stairs delivering things to people, particularly older people. It was pitch black except for head lamps and flashlight apps on people’s cell phones. And some volunteers had placed glow sticks in the hallways – that’s it.
What other types of post-Hurricane service have you been involved with?
The following weekend we went to help out a friend at her family’s home in Long Beach. Her family had been living there for 40 years, and they lost everything in their basement. Walking around, you would see pictures of her from years ago floating by in the standing water. What’s interesting is that Long Beach is an upper middle class neighborhood and The Rockaways are a lower middle class neighborhood, but the devastation was the same regardless. What’s different was the response. Long Beach had support from established relief organizations, for example, but The Rockaways did not.
What are your thoughts now as we get further away from the Hurricane itself?
I am back at work, so I feel somewhat disconnected to things now. But talking to friends who keep going back, they say it’s getting better and yet there are still tons of people who have no heat, power and running water. It’s important that we keep talking about this, and that we do not fall into the idea that everyone is fine again just because many people are.
Do you know a Sandy relief hero? Let us know in the comments below or by tweeting @repairtheworld and tagging #hurricanesandy.