By Simone Gordon
The hurricane’s appearance may have been short but its effects will be long-lasting. Approaching the Rockaways, one could already witness Sandy’s devastating impact: empty stores, marked-off houses designated as too dangerous for habitation, and signs attached to poles that read “FEMA, we need your assistance!” I felt like I was entering another country and became aware of nature’s unequal distribution of effects. My own community was largely unharmed by the hurricane. The Rockaways were not as fortunate.
Before going out to the Rockaways, I had spoken to some volunteers who echoed similar sentiments—regret at not being able to help earlier, frustration over the lack of accessibility to affected areas, the difficulty of connecting to an organization that needed more than just money, and the feelings of inadequacy in tackling the larger problems of recovering electricity and heat to families in need. The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Day of Action answered some of those frustrations. Arriving on site, volunteers had a choice between sorting, packaging and distributing food and serving hot meats, or pairing with National Guard units canvassing the community to assess conditions. I decided to join a patrol with the National Guard. We surveyed people block by block, house by house, asking if they had any immediate needs, including food, water, and medication, which could be brought to them later. We also asked if they had heat, electricity or gas, and finally, if they wanted or needed to be relocated.
My experiences left me in two minds about what I had done. On one hand, it was great to let people know that they were not forgotten, and that aid would come. At the same time, I felt uneasy because I could not guarantee that assistance would arrive on a specific day, or even at all. In truth, I began to question the effectiveness of what I was doing since I would not see the results. Nevertheless, these feelings of uncertainty were short-lived—the positive response from the communities we visited were overwhelming. People were genuinely appreciative of our presence. Still, as we boarded the bus for home, I felt somber. I was satisfied for having helped, but sad at the prospect of the immense work that still needs to be done. It will be a long while before people’s lives return anything resembling normalcy.
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