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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dara and post-Sandy relief

"I can't just sit and do nothing. I have to help and I will" 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

 Day 1: Staten Island

As I approached my assigned location, I saw a huge sign that read "Occupy Sandy." I knew I was at the right place. I signed up as a new volunteer, and was orientated about the difference between mutual aid (helping by having a human connection with others) versus charity (monetary donations through organizations). The people seemed friendly, many gathering supplies to deliver to hardest hit areas such as Coney Island, Brooklyn, Rockaway, Queens and Staten Island. I quickly realized that despite all of us gathered in one place, we are individuals making our own decisions in how we want to help. There is no organizer or go to person for a plan of action. As I was told, "There are no limitations, everyone is their own leader." This is Occupy Sandy, a group of people who are individual thinkers; they believe in the human spirit and not organizational hierarchy. Helping people is their priority. Some of these individuals were from the Occupy Wall Street movement a year ago. I couldn't help but feel a little nervous, hoping I didn't sign up to a radical form of helping people, but instead as an individual volunteer looking to make a difference. This should be interesting, I thought to myself.

A van was transporting volunteers to Staten Island and I went along. As everyone were chatting, I observed the many downed trees and houses now destroyed by hurricane Sandy. There were many yellow and red signs on front doors stating  if a house was habitable or not. This is Midland Beach, Staten Island. We pulled up to a food distribution center where we were greeted by locals and organizers of the center. There were a lot of thank yous and handshakes. Retired FDNY and police officers were cooking food on one side, and on the other were tents for volunteers to sign up. There was a table by the front gate where volunteers helped residents with questions or requests for food, supplies etc.

I helped out in cleaning the office area as well as organized the food items in the food store. The hardest part of the day was the lifting and distributing cases of tomato sauce into the supply room. Each of us handed the cases to the person behind us. The cases weren't too heavy, but the fast pace made it feel like a workout. I think I grew extra muscles on my arms! I didn't get a chance to do any canvassing around the neighborhood to check in on residents. I hope to do that next time. I almost cried when talking to another volunteer about this hurricane. Watching people come in and sort through the cans of food, or ask questions like, "Do we need another one of these? I think we ran out," really got to me. When I saw a woman with her little boy sort through toiletries and baby items it made me sad. She and her son looked sad. The mom kept her head down the whole time and softly said "thank you" as she left the center. I wanted to hug her. Instead, I stood paralyzed as I watched her and her son leave. When I shared that with the volunteer, I could feel my eyes welling up and took a sip of coffee.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Day 2: Red Hook, Brooklyn

"I think I'm lost," I said to myself. I couldn't find the number to the place I was assigned to. I ended up on 2nd Ave and 10th Street, a part of Brooklyn I'm clueless about. It's not like other areas I'm used to; there's a lot of construction and warehouses. Some streets are darker than others, some even isolated. I didn't know the walk from the train station to this place, I still haven't found, was so long. Despite these small mishaps, I did my usual, reflected and took pictures. I like to capture my journeys around town, even if I don't know where I'm going. I ended up calling the place, got the right directions, and took the bus there. It was a community center. I met a lady and gentleman who were very friendly and welcomed me. They showed me the gymnasium where piles of clothes were stacked high on tables. Sorting was my assignment.

At first, it was just the three of us until two more volunteers joined in. I mostly worked on organizing the coats and sweaters by size, and re-arranging the piles of clothes. It was good to see the large amount of donations they received.  Sorting these clothes was in preparation of a free flea market happening this Saturday. People can come and pick any clothing they need. Majority of the clothes and coats are in good condition, a variety of men, women, and children's wear. There were also stuffed animals, gloves, scarfs, hats, and socks. I had nice conversations with everyone. The lady and gentleman who greeted me are working at this community center, because their offices in Coney Island were badly damaged. When it was time for me to leave, the lady said, "You have to go now Ms. Dora? Hope you'll come back." I felt humbled. I smiled and said, "Yes, I will be back."

I met some nice people these past two days. They shared with me their Sandy experiences whether personal or job related. I'm humbled by this experience, because it makes me realize how blessed I truly am. I have a warm home to go to, food to eat, clothes to wear and people in my life who love me. To think there are so many out there who don't have that breaks my heart. What I saw in Staten Island and now Red Hook brought me back to why I want and need to be a social worker. It also helped me see the impact I leave on others through my actions. I don't give myself credit for anything and tend to be very hard on myself. Having people I just met thank me for helping them is humbling and special. I thank them for allowing me to help and to show how much I care about people.

"There's more to do and I plan to do my part in helping those in need."

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