Volunteers have been coming from all over to help on Hurricane Sandy projects. Christina Herold came to New York from Washington, DC to run the New York City Marathon, but ended up volunteering in the Rockaways instead. Read about her experience below.
My name is Christina Herold and I am from Washington, DC. I came to New York as part of a team of runners from the Team To End AIDS (T2). We came to this city to take part in the NYC Marathon but what some of us ultimately participated in was so much more awe-inspiring and heartbreaking than the marathon would ever amount to be.
Through the NYC Mayor’s office and New York Cares I had the privilege of volunteering in the Hammel Housing Project in the Far Rockaways. Under the leadership and guidance of Casey Cunningham and Lia Papazoglou I volunteered to help set up a hurricane assistance center at the Hammel Playground. Words cannot express the devastation that these people have experienced. As is often the case in natural disasters, the plight of so many underprivileged people living on or below the poverty line has not received much attention in the media. What I saw went far beyond flood waters in the financial district or darkened buildings in Chelsea. The people on the front lines of this disaster in places like the Rockaways and Breezy Point have been through so much and will need assistance both right now and in the coming months.
Words cannot describe the feeling of seeing water lines 15 feet high on a house, or the contents of entire homes out on the curb soaking wet and destroyed. It’s almost impossible to describe the look of desperation of a group of people without electricity, water, heat, food, and transportation or any means to get these essential items. I spent the weekend with a group of dedicated volunteers and members of the NYPD and the NY State National Guard. We were assigned a post at the Hammel Playground where we handed out clean water, military MREs (ready to eat meals) and basic supplies like batteries, flashlights, blankets, toiletries, diapers/wipes, and trash bags. For many local residents it was the first bit of assistance they had received since the storm struck their neighborhood. These people have been living in dark, freezing apartments without working water or toilets. They are afraid at night of the looting and robbing taking place in their buildings and around their homes. Many don’t have a way to keep their babies warm/diapered or get much needed prescriptions filled. Some can’t even leave their buildings because they can’t walk down stairs that dark, damp and dangerous. It is absolutely gut wrenching and heartbreaking.
However, along with the sadness and devastation came moments of beauty and hope: The woman who lost nearly everything returning to the neighborhood to drop off a bag of warm clothes that were now too small; the young boy who carried diapers/wipes back to his apartment for his newborn brothers and cousin; members of the Guard sorting supplies, carrying cases of water to people’s apartments and entertaining children on the basketball court. I could go on and on and on but I won’t. What I will do is say this was an experience that I will never forget and that has forever changed me. It is often easy to get caught up in my own life and wallow in my own problems but I have no excuses. I slept in a bed all weekend and had heat, hot meals, and showers. I made a conscious choice to go to Far Rockaway. These people don’t have that luxury. Many people say that the marathon changes them. I will say that after volunteering I will never be the same again. I hope to find time to come back and help out again. I also hope to become more active in my own community and help those in need in my own backyard. Thank you for the opportunity.
By Christina Herold
Volunteers are needed every day on Hurricane Sandy projects. Sign up to help today.