Today we have the first of two guest blog entries. Julia is a friend who made the inaugural sandwich with us Saturday, November 3. You can check out her awesome blog at www.itsnotthatweird.com . Enjoy!
When I arrived back at my in New York City neighborhood after an awesome week tooling around Germany, I was greeted by two things: 1) the cold weather, and 2) the frenzy of hurricane preparations and tinge of panic that were steadily seeping into the city the way lukewarm water slowly but inevitably invades an arid tea bag. “Wait, what?” I thought in my jet-lagged, bier-addled brain, “Another hurricane? Didn’t we just do this? Do I have any batteries left?” And the answers were yes, yes, and no, of course not.
It was a rapid adjustment from carefree vacation mode to the long lines and frayed tempers in grocery stores and pharmacies as people stocked up on supplies. Shelves of non-perishables vanished quickly as people stood in hour-long lines at checkout counters. The first thing I did when I got back to my neighborhood was stock up on a few bottles of $5 of wine. Then I tackled the battery situation.
As the wind picked up on Monday, my roommate and I sat comfortably watching Netflix on my laptop, eating snacks and waiting for something dramatic to happen. We watched the rain skitter across the sky in horizontal sheets and trees and streetlights bend to nauseating angles, but at the end of the night, we woke up on Tuesday unscathed. We had power, water, heat, and internet, and were facing a few days of mandatory vacation. Things seemed pretty good. Then the news from the rest of the city started to trickle in – first in bits and pieces and then in long articles and collections of pictures, detailing the flooding, the deaths, and the many people in the city who had lost their homes. It was a really disorienting sensation to be comfortably dry and safe while other areas of the city suffered in the dark, fending off the storm surge that swallowed the bottom of Manhattan and lots of Staten Island.
The following week was surreal – my neighborhood was livelier than I’ve ever seen it because everyone was stuck there and most people didn’t have to work. Bars had crowds that rivaled a good Saturday night that cropped up as early as 4 PM on the weeknights. Pints in hand, we collectively awaited the rumble of the 7 train to indicate that things were finally back to normal.
As the week wore on, I started going a little stir crazy from being trapped at home, but also from being completely fine. Reading about the devastation across the city was addictive, and each subsequent story made me feel worse that I had been so fortunate. By Friday, I had put my name on every NYC based volunteering email list in the hopes that someone would tell me something I could do to help. Living in New York City, you grow accustomed to the discrepancies inherent here. On a given trip to or from work or play, surrounded by manicured, brand-name wearing people, you’ll encounter numerous people sleeping on subway benches or shuffling down the length of the subway, armed with a sad personal history and a container of change. It didn’t take me long to dissociate myself from these people as I went about my day. These people were “the unfortunate,” a term that scared me but also comforted me because I am lucky enough to be considered, by all counts, very fortunate. I volunteered and donated money on my own terms, but the people who invaded my commute were not a part of my New York City. They were separate from me.
Somehow, Hurricane Sandy blurred this line I’d created to make myself immune to those hoards of unfortunate people. For the first time since I moved to New York, I felt like it was my city, and I hated to think of the people in pain. The Rockaways, the Lower East Side, Staten Island…these places stopped being neighborhoods and became neighbors. Suddenly the plight of the unfortunate felt like it was very much my problem too.
This is why I am so grateful that UWSLoves gave me the opportunity to help out. Last Saturday I was able to purchase and make food that was delivered right into the Lower East Side. Mandy Bickerstaff, who was leading the charge, had days of experience bringing food to the shelter and knew exactly what we should do – sandwiches were great because they could be handed out quickly, baked goods were made in the morning because they didn’t have to be hot, and an incredible-smelling batch of stir fry was made minutes before she and another volunteer braved the traffic and the gas shortage to drive down and drop the food off at a shelter. All told, some 9 or 10 volunteers cycled through the apartment where we happily worked, slicing veggies, spreading peanut butter and jelly, and bagging sandwiches. It was a truly inspired event, put together by people who felt the same way I did. We formed our own little community in the hopes of helping the larger community of people who were still reeling from the storm. We made hundreds of sandwiches, and filled tins and tins with hot food. I left at the end of the day feeling better than I had all week.
In a short few weeks, this organization has raised thousands of dollars which it has efficiently converted directly into food and supplies for shelters in the affected areas. It is an inspiring story, and a reminder that helping people is, in essence, a simple thing. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you what you should do. Just mobilize some friends and get started.