Day 3: Rockaway, Queens
December 7, 2012
I am writing this blog post with much sadness in my heart and anger by what I have seen. Today, I made it to Rockaway, Queens. I participated in relief efforts with Occupy Sandy. I needed to be there not only to see the devastation, but to understand its impact on residents. As we drove along Cross Bay Boulevard and approached Rockaway, I felt nervous by what I would possibly see. A volunteer said, “We’re here,” and my stomach began to hurt. We arrived at one of the hubs for supply drop-off, volunteer sign up and outreach. Next door to the hub is a place called YANA (You Are Not Alone) which is a non-profit organization that helps the community. As we got out of the car, I could smell a damp, burnt smell lingering in the air. I couldn’t help but to approach the rubble up the block of Rockaway Beach Blvd. When I approached Beach 114th Street, I lost my breath for a moment. A now vacant lot full of burnt debris scattered around. Rows of businesses burned down, piles of wood and garbage along the sidewalk. A train station known as Rockaway Park now ruined by fire. Few people were around. I saw the Q22 bus running as well as cars and some medic vehicles. I took pictures trying to understand how this could have happened. I decided to make a video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4tKNy-L7I8&feature=youtu.be). While speaking on video, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. My voice cracked. Once I stopped recording, I cried. I didn’t know it was this bad.
We visited different hubs throughout Rockaway going to Beach 139th Street to Beach 38th. I helped load food and supplies onto a truck that would be transported to another distribution center. I had an opportunity to have lunch with locals and volunteers. I observed how residents dealt with waiting on line for lunch. Most of the volunteers serving lunch were from the United Way and New York Cares. I asked them how they were doing. Many told me it’s been hard but happy there’s “some” progress. While standing on line I felt guilty. I didn’t want to eat. My thought was how could I eat when so many probably haven’t eaten a decent meal in weeks? I looked around and saw a massage table with pamphlets about relieving stress. Another table had members from FEMA, and another for volunteer sign up. At each distribution center or hub, I spoke with local residents and volunteers who many live in Rockaway. I think one lady said it best, “You have to find a balance. You have to remember to take care of yourself, because if you don’t you won’t be any good to anybody.” She is a volunteer who works in trauma relief. I appreciated her words. I needed to hear that today.
We stopped at a hub at Beach 109th Street. A volunteer and I went on the beach to see Sandy’s effects. In shock, I saw there was no boardwalk. “There’s no boardwalk? How is this possible! I wasn’t ready for this” I said to a volunteer. She nodded her head in agreement. Piles of sand dunes sat along where the boardwalk once stood. The waves were crashing along the shoreline. I stood in silence. There was a pine tree sitting on the beach. A sign of hope I suppose. There were no decorations on it, it just stood there. Thinking about all the people who lost their homes or had property damage made me feel bad. How are they going to cope during a season that’s about celebration, gift giving, and spending money? I wonder how their Christmas will be.
When we returned to YANA, I spoke to a guy whose brother lives in Rockaway. He said his brother wasn’t badly affected but was affected. I told him he and his brother are in my prayers and to continue to keep the faith. He shook my hand and asked for my name. When I told him, he said, “Thank you Dara.” I met a volunteer who’s been working in Rockaway for some weeks now. He’s been working on the construction/mold removal projects. We had a nice conversation about the importance of volunteering. I thanked him for what he’s been doing. Before I left, he thanked me and gave me a hug. “Awe, thanks I needed one of these. I’ll never say no to a hug, I’m a hugger.” We laughed and he replied, “It’s no problem.”
The sun began to set and the volunteers were getting ready to head back to Brooklyn. While waiting for one volunteer, I walked back to Beach 114th and stood there looking at the debris. I said a prayer. I thought about my friend who lives in the area. I shed a tear for her, she is one of many badly affected by Sandy. I hope to see her soon. When I got into the car, I sat quietly thinking about today. The things I witnessed will always be in my head. The volunteers I met will not be forgotten. The faces of the residents I saw throughout the day will remain in my heart. I observed a lot today. There were some bad attitudes from volunteers, and even learned of some not-so-charitable things happening in Rockaway. The limitations of what can and cannot be done are frustrating as a volunteer. I feel bad I can’t do more, because the need is greater than the cause. I won’t stop helping people. If I do, then I failed as someone who cares about the community. I will be back.