Occupying Sandy (My Volunteering Story)

*I don’t have many pictures to post today, but I’m in the process of editing a video of our experience…hope it works!*

Over the weekend a new friend of mind told me about a volunteering group in the city that not only needs lots of volunteers, but also doesn’t turn anyone away. This group is called Occupy Sandy; it’s a coalition that serves the people in need. I signed up and within an hour received an email with instructions on where to go to help the next morning.

This morning, Zoey, Husband and I took a few trains to Brooklyn to meet a friend and head to St Jacobi Church in Sunset Park.

awww poor sleepy Zoey

This church serves as the hub for all the volunteers and the many donated supplies. The beginning of our day was hectic and pretty unorganized. There are literally thousands of people showing up to volunteer and donate. The problem is that different volunteers are showing up each day. It seems that the people leading the masses have to regroup every morning and do their best to give people duties. (hehe, sorry, we just saw “Wreck-It Ralph”)

We did our best to take action. Someone was handing out papers that listed an address and a list of supplies, so we took the list and began filling up boxes. Once the boxes were full we headed out to the sidewalk to find a car. Dozens of drivers were parked down the street ready to take supplies and volunteers to any destination they were given.

getting all the donations organized

Zoey and I hopped in a car with three other girls, and the five of us headed to Coney Island. I had no clue what to expect. Like the rest of the country, I have been overwhelmed with pictures and videos consuming the Internet and the local news, but I still feel so detached. I may live in NYC, but my neighborhood is sooo unaffected that I feel a country away from the devastation.

packing up the car with supplies

As soon as we arrived we became overwhelmed by the destruction; I’ve been through a few hurricanes myself (I grew up on the Gulf Coast), but this was very different. The streets were covered in sand; mounds of sand five feet high were piled on the corners of each street. Cars were turned over, smashed into poles, and destroyed by the storm. The power was still out, the people were freezing, and many homes had been lost.

sand on the streets

Once again, we arrived to find total chaos. Our destination had not been organized yet, and there was only one small, but amazing, family there waiting to help. After lots of organizing, finagling, and some charge-taking by a very loud, strong-willed lady, we finally got the supplies set up and ready.

Instantly, a line of people formed who were ready to pick up what they needed. We were told by the people in charge to force people to wait in the line, give them a bag full of food, water, and supplies, and send them on their way; this was so much harder than it sounds.

While filling bags with proteins, veggies, fruits and grains, we were constantly interrupted by someone asking for “just one can of tuna”, “gloves for my little girl”, “deodorant and toothpaste please.” How could I tell these people no!?

Well, I couldn’t. I kept thinking, “If they’re here, they’re asking, and they need it, it’s my job to give it to them!” So, I broke all the rules and snuck Snickers, hairspray, candles, and hot hands to anyone who asked…and some who didn’t.

Our whole group was amazing. I spent the day working with volunteers who live in the community. They themselves do not have power or running water, but are able bodies that want to do anything they can for their community. They were really inspiring people.

When supplies and crowds began to dwindle, we were informed of a large building across the street that housed senior citizens. The seniors have been without power for over a week and many, who are sick and disabled, have no way to leave their apartments to get supplies.

Our group trekked over, installed flashlight apps on our phones, and began marching up to the 14th floor to knock on doors. On the way up, a woman stopped us and begged us to check in room “12G”. She said she knew the people that lived there, who are elderly and sick, and she couldn’t get them to answer the door. She was afraid something tragic had happened and wanted us to check. US! THAT INCLUDES ME!

By the time we reached 12G I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest.  THANK GOD the woman across the hall informed us that 12G was not there after she heard us knocking and calling at the door.

Going up and down these dark stairwells and through the pitch-black hallways was one of the scariest adventures of my life. It was right out of a horror movie…Blair Witch meets Shutter Island. Not only was it frightening for us, but also it was really scary for the seniors. They have been shut up in their apartments, many scared and hungry, and have no idea who might be banging on their door.

In the end, everything worked out: we got a list of needs from everyone still in the building, drove back to the hub to pick up supplies, and came back to distribute them to each apartment. It was not easy to carry gallons of water and bags of canned goods up all those steps, so I thought of my own Grandmother the whole time.

Most of these senior citizens we met were from Russia and spoke very little English. I thought if the situation were reversed, and my Grandmother was stuck on the 10th floor of an apartment in Russia, I sure hope someone would carry up everything she needs. The one thing that broke my heart was that we had numerous requests for milk (the one thing my Grandmother would want most), and none to give to them.

They were, though, all very, very grateful for the supplies we were able to bring.

It felt great to get out and help others today. Husband and his friend stayed at the Hub all day organizing, filling orders, and carrying deliveries to and from cars. We all felt like we made a positive impact today, but it certainly didn’t feel like enough. The scariest part to me was that we were only in Coney Island. There are a million more areas that also need help, many more than where we were. Where’s my Super Woman cape when I need it?!?!

Now, I’m home, feeling so grateful for everything. I have hot, clean water, electricity, food, blankets, windows, a job, a family….I’m teary eyed just thinking about how fortunate I am.

Hopefully, I’ll have a video up for you tomorrow.

Be thankful and be generous. There are so many people on the East Coast who need your help!

Xoxo and Cheers!

7 thoughts on “Occupying Sandy (My Volunteering Story)”

  1. It was great reading about your volunteer experience. It truly does make me feel thankful and fortunate too. Even though I have been through Rita and Ike…I definitely did not have to go through personal devastation like that. The East Coast is in my thoughts and I know they will rebuild and overcome this 🙂

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