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Making the Best of Sandy’s Worst

Hurricane Sandy discriminated.  She had a vendetta against Far Rockaway, but left Flushing alone in Queens.  She passed over Carroll Gardens in exchange for Red Hook in Brooklyn.  She let West New York go with a slap on the wrist, but gave Hoboken a beat-down.  She let inland Jersey go with a warning, but made sure the Jersey Shore would bear her scars for a long time.  Downtown Manhattan looked beyond 34th Street w/ scorn as its bright lights seemed to taunt them.  There was no reason why neighbors should have shared such disparate fates. And it was for this very reason that the severity of Sandy did not hit me until days after the fact.  I live in West New York, where our power went out for only one day.  We were up and running and able to watch the news the next day and cure our cabin fever w/ a road trip to Dunkin Donuts.  For the next few days, I was in the part of Manhattan where all was running smoothly with murmurings of people’s inconveniences the only evidence that more was underfoot. Sidenote: The forced day at home for me was quite a novelty, and from these pics, you can see I made the best of it!
Went for a run to see the aftermath
cooked everything in the fridge before they perished!
Went for a run to see the aftermath
But on Friday the ING Marathon was cancelled.  Relief efforts were rampant.  Grassroots efforts were sprouting up quicker than you could say FEMA (pun intended).  Every church’s website was revolving around volunteer opportunities.  The national guard was here.  The national guard.  This was a national matter.  Obama was visiting New Jersey and walking around with our governor Chris Christie.  Flashbacks of Hurricane Katrina came to mind and were not far off from the current state of affairs. The burden was heavy on my heart to do something and I immediately made an executive decision to swap out our ministry’s weekly acting workshop for a relief effort of some sort.  I wasn’t sure which one it was going to be, but I had no doubt that I could find one.  It wasn’t enough to wait until Monday though.  I wanted to help noooow (insert whining and stomping of feet). Miraculously, at the midnight on Friday, I saw a Facebook post about a volunteer effort in Chinatown!: That was it!  In a flash, I responded, committed, and promoted.  By the following afternoon, I had my two roommates in tow, a friend from New Brunswick coming up to join in, a group I had just met rallying their troops to come, and a childhood friend who lived in Chinatown swinging by.  The burden to help was thick in people’s hearts and mobilization took on a momentum I had never seen before. We convened at Alfred Smith Playground in Chinatown and NYCares was spearheading the effort.  Upon arrival, we realized that the lights had come back on just the evening before, rendering our services a bit superfluous, but we were not deterred.  We were formed into groups cleverly devised of spanish, chinese, and english speakers, and were given a map and instructions to knock on doors to check on residents.  We climbed every walk-up in our highlighted section, knocking on doors to find an array of scenarios: Some people were suspicious, peering through their doors just long enough to say, “ok, ok” and then shutting it just as quickly; some smiled at us sweetly and thanked us for our kindness as they nodded that they were fine; some were lively, enjoying their newfound comforts; some were eager to share with us their stories when asked how they were doing and had been doing; some were lounging around in their pajamas and bathrobes, enjoying their Saturday afternoons; and one guy even asked if he could help usin our efforts!
The handiwork of our volunteer team down in Chinatown!
One woman ran back after us, confessing that she indeed had a problem.  Her window had broken on the evening of the hurricane, nearly shattering on her son, leaving now, just a gaping hole that only exacerbated the already freezing temperature due to the lack of heat in their apartment.  We quickly realized that taking her through the normal channels (writing up a form w/ her information which we would submit to NYCares who would then submit that to the city who would eventually get to the part of their post-hurricane rebuilding efforts where they would fix someone’s window) would simply send her into a long-winded red-tape maze, all while she would be shivering in her apartment with her two sons, husbands, and mother. And so, we did what any human being should do for another: we treated her like a human.  We bought tape and garbage bags and cardboard boxes and built her a makeshift window!  With the shades pulled down, one couldn’t even tell there was no window on the other side!  It was a small accomplishment that made a big difference for a family in their humble Chinatown apartment.  We took it a step further to ensure that her situation would be fully redeemed by calling her landlord until he agreed to fix her window in about two weeks. Funny moment: with 3 Chinese and 1 Filipino in the room, we were each making calls in order to learn the Chinese word for “landlord!”  What a mess! Well, we finished up the day by carrying some MRE’s to a still blacked-out apartment complex across the street from the park where we were headquartered.  As night was falling, we saw residents swarm out to receive blankets and food to withstand the 30 degree temperatures with no heat.  As we chatted with them, we asked how they were holding up.  One man said that it was just taking a long time to do anything he wanted to do.  “It took me a few hours to charge my phone today,” he said.  They looked exhausted and stunned by the situation.  We wished them well and shook our heads in disbelief as we walked out.
college friend, group AsianInNY, armed officer, AT&T charging station!
One of the most inspiring part of the volunteer experience was the solidarity.  I threw up the announcement that I’d be heading downtown to volunteer and people jumped in with me swifter than any social event that I’ve advertised.  The burden to help was shared by everyone.  I’m sure those who were affected even wanted to help those more affected.  There was a sense of community where everyone’s first question upon meeting again was how they were doing after the storm.  It was not unlike the atmosphere post-9/11, which fostered a similar knitting together of New York City in the wake of tragedy.  This relief effort was a chance to get out and be a part of the action, encourage newly recovered victims, and have conversations with those still in need.  I’m glad I did it, but there’s more to be done…so look out for another volunteer effort post coming soon!
  • The repercussions  of the storm are dramatic:
  • The US death at 110, NY death toll 85
  • The NYSE closed for two days
  • JFK Airport and Newark Airport closed
  • The country faced a storm bill of tens of billions
  • 1.5 million customers were without power
I’ve collected pictures below that portray houses completely sunken into the ground, a roller coaster floating in the ocean, subway stations filling with water like sink basins, and people standing waist deep in water, just to name a few.  Check out some of these images and a video of parts of our day volunteering, below.  Thank you and God bless New York & New Jersey!