Morning came and we were incredibly grateful to wake up to heat, hot water, and power in Astoria . Aside from several fallen trees, my neighborhood was untouched by the wrath of the storm. Unfortunately, many areas across the five boroughs were not so lucky. I sat with a lump in my throat as I scanned pictures online of neighborhoods I knew so well completely underwater and lifeless. Cars floated down streets and in garages like toys, subway tunnels and stations were flooded up to their ceilings, and our favorite Brooklyn carousel became an island in the East River. As we watched the coverage Tuesday morning, we realized that the destruction the hurricane left up the coast was unimaginable. Sand, water, oil, debris filled towns throughout New Jersey, Long Island, and New York City and communities were unrecognizable. It was absolutely devastating.
For days I stayed home glued to the television as more and more stories came out about lives lost, neighborhoods destroyed, and assistance trickling in. I felt helpless without the subways; I wanted to help the communities around New York City but had no way of getting to them. Once the trains started running again on Thursday, the city's pulse quickened. My pulse quickened. I was ready to go out and work. After researching and emailing volunteer organizations around the boroughs, Brian and I decided that our energy was needed on Staten Island.
Early Sunday morning Brian and I joined hundreds of marathon runners, along with their families and friends, downtown at the Staten Island ferry station. Determined to put the day they had trained so hard for to good use, groups of runners came together to deliver supplies and clean up homes in Oakwood Beach, one of the neighborhoods destroyed by the surge. We met up with our friends Beth and Matt, who were both supposed to run in the marathon, and piled into the 8:30 am ferry to the island.
NYC MORE, hopped on the train and quietly rode to Oakwood Heights, not sure what to expect when we arrived. We were greeted by a man named Sal as soon as we got out of the station and walked as a group to a donation center where we filled our backpacks with gloves, masks, and water. From there, we were on our own. Just walk around and ask people if they need help, Sal yelled to us as he hurried off to organize more supplies. As soon as we started walking, we realized that help was needed everywhere.
We wandered down streets lined with piles of belongings mixed with tree limbs, cars, and debris from the marshes nearby. I saw a woman quietly crying in her front lawn as she watched men carry all she owned out of her home, still dripping from the water that almost reached her roof during the height of the storm. Whole houses were washed away from their foundations and found blocks away, leaving only concrete front steps where a home once stood. I had never seen anything like it before. I held back tears as I said good morning to families outside their homes and offered a smile when the words did not come.
While Brian and Matt continued onto another block to help homeowners carry out their belongings, Beth, Melissa, and I sorted items at a donation center set up by a few people from the neighborhood. For hours we piled clothing, toys, blankets, and products into bags and handed out items to families who were in need. Hot food was served to residents and workers continuously throughout the afternoon, and volunteers traveled on foot handing out meals, coffee, and water up and down the streets as people worked. No matter your age, ability, or experience, there was a job that you could do. It was amazing to see so many people come together to help.
There is still so much work to be done and so many communities in need. But I know that New York City will regain its bright lights and its strength. And let's face it, it never lost that indescribable energy.
I urge you to help in any way you can with the relief efforts. Here are some links for opportunities to donate money and/or volunteer your time:
- Donate to the Red Cross
- Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give a $10 donation