Hurricane Relief: Volunteering in Far Rockaway

by Mariah Castillo

Note: NYCCEP is organizing students to get involved with two volunteer projects this weekend. The Saturday initiative is in Riverside Park and the Sunday one is in Staten Island, the Rockaways, and Long Beach. 

Rockaway Boardwalk

Last Saturday, I woke up at 5 a.m. to get ready for a long day.

Through my church, I volunteered to give out care packages to people in Far Rockaway, Queens who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. The preparation of all the care packages was intense. We had to bag nonperishable food, water, and blankets into one-thousand tote bags. It took us about an hour to get to the police station in Far Rockaway where we were to set up, and even more time to prepare and get the bags on to the tables to pass them out. Some of us also started cleaning up the beach; the only remaining parts of the boardwalk left were the cement columns of the foundation. The roads and sidewalks were either slick with mud or full of dust and sand. Even two weeks after Sandy, there’s still a lot to be done.

There were some rules we had to follow that the church leaders established. Firstly, we were not allowed to take pictures. Personally, I felt it was a smart thing to do; it would seem insensitive if we were posing and smiling in front of broken down boardwalks and leveled homes. Secondly, we could only give the people in line care packages if they had a voucher that had we distributed the previous day. However, we eventually let anyone who was in line receive a bag. I mean, who would be callous enough to turn people away if they really needed the help?

Going to Far Rockaway was a wake-up call for me. Living in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, we were fortunate to not be hit so bad by Super Storm Sandy. However, since we didn’t even lose power, I felt like we never really felt the full extent of what Sandy has done to the East Coast; the Columbia University area is like one isolated bubble of normalcy. Sure, we’ve seen pictures of the destruction in the news and on the Internet, but actually going to a place where there’s no power and no subway made me realize how lucky we were.

Seeing what a positive effect our relief effort had made the loss of sleep, the putting off of my homework until Sunday, and the time it took to get to Far Rockaway completely worth it. After giving out the vouchers and the care packages and cleaning up the beach, everyone was thanking us for coming out and helping. Seeing them smiling when they saw how much we cared made me proud to be a part of the relief effort. When an opportunity comes to clean up the damage or to give out food or blankets in hard hit areas, I urge you to take it; you will not regret any second of it.

Mariah Castillo is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Photo courtesy of CNBC.

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