To Staten & Coney Islands with Love

by Jessica Shyba on February 2, 2013

in Hurricane Sandy,New York,Volunteering

Our building’s Halloween party was last weekend. We didn’t attend or participate because Jack’s 6th birthday party was held on the same day, but it made me feel a little better about the state of our own affairs. We are still set back and playing some major catch up after Hurricane Sandy hit in October last year. I’m going to take this little pass and hope that you’ll excuse the late coverage, but I wanted to share with you the incredible things that some very generous and huge-hearted people contributed to the relief effort that I championed shortly after the hurricane.

After the dust settled for our little-ish family and we were back home in our routine, I couldn’t help but think of ways of joining the thousands of volunteers in helping those who were suffering in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. For me, it was the only way I could begin to process the level of devastation around us in my brain-by turning the awful things that had happened to so many people somehow into something positive.

We had made it though the initial craziness all but unscathed, despite being displaced for nearly 10 days with three kids and a cat. We were overwhelmingly fortunate thanks in a large part to my relationships with companies that I’ve been connected with through this blog, so it was time to pay it forward as much as I possibly could. In the days following the hurricane, I posted on twitter and my facebook pages that I would be making a trip out to the Rockaways to deliver supplies, and anyone that was interested in contributing could send things to my apartment. At that point I hadn’t considered transportation, but assumed that I would just rent a ZipCar for the day. I also was hardly expecting the amount of donations that landed at my door-boxes upon boxes of diapers, liquid formula, baby food, warm clothing and even space heaters were sent to me from all over the country. I had to keep much of it in the lobby downstairs with our doorman, as it just wouldn’t all fit in our apartment. The outpouring of love and generosity was incredibly exciting and heartwarming for me-everyone wanted to help, and so many people did.

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The more stuff that came in, the quicker I realized that I would need an SUV, so I reached out to GM Northeast-a company who’s generosity knows no bounds-to see if they would be interested in donating one for our trips. They jumped on board with me without hesitation, along with Target and Pampers who each donated $500 in gift cards to be spent at my discretion for people in need, while GM Northeast donated two large SUV’s- one for each of the days I went to distribute goods.

My friend Isabel had seen that I was doing and generously offered her help-not only did I need an extra hand for loading and unloading, I was so thrilled to have a friend with me for emotional support, someone to talk to, and help with directions on the ride over. Isabel is not only from New York City, but she had already been out to the Rockaways and knew what they needed and what to expect. We shopped together not once but twice at Target to buy the donations supplies. It is so much fun-albeit tempered, obviously-to shop with a big fat gift card solely for those in need. We consulted Occupy Sandy’s website to see who needed what and where they needed it the most and headed to Target in Queens and filled up our carts.

For our delivery to Staten Island, the needs were great for all types of relief: Food, warm clothing, sanitary items, disposable hand warmers and blankets. Our car was absolutely full from items generously sent from my friends and those collected at my daughter’s preschool-we were concerned that the items purchased at Target might not fit, but the Yukon handled it all perfectly.

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We shopped without abandon until the bill came to $485, nearly exactly the $500 limit. If you think that Target has everything, try shopping for people who have nothing… The $500 went quickly and efficiently. We had just enough money left to buy a carafe of coffee ($15!) at Starbucks in the building-they also took our Target Gift Card, which was conveniently loaded onto my phone.

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We arrived at the Occupy Sandy donation collection station in Staten Island, at the Christian Pentecostal Church. This church had the most impressive organization: There were huge boxes filled with ready-packed lunches and areas squared off for each set of supplies ready for distribution, which came by way of volunteers and their own vans making the hauls to and from the hard-hit areas. The church’s kitchen was also working overtime to feed the community warm food and extra hands had flown in from California specifically to help their area.

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We helped unload and organize our donations and spent some time talking with the pastor of the church and other volunteers, listening to their stories and feeling a combination of sadness and awe. It was impressive and remarkable what this church had done to pull together and care for their community.

We drove around the more affected areas looking for someone to give the carafe of coffee to. We found a makeshift BBQ and corner “market” in one neighborhood, manned by bundled people with incredibly high spirits and smiles.

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Our second trip to Coney Island a couple of weeks later was a little more difficult, emotionally. The list of needs had shifted from survival materials to cleanup supplies by level of importance, yet we still filled the cart at Target full of non-perishable food (mostly for children & babies- the thought of them going hungry destroys me), but we also went over with a ton of disposable hand warmers, sleeping bags and even much-appreciated stuffed animals for the children. Pampers sponsored this trip with a $500 Amex card and organized with me the shipment of 100 cases of diapers in all sizes for the babies and toddlers in Coney Island.

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Again, we were met with grateful, smiling faces long before we made it to the door of the church. Families searching for items to keep little babies and children fed, dry and warm in their powerless homes were thrilled with the items we were shoveling out of the trunk of our SUV.

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One gentleman called us his “angels”. It was hard for me to mask my emotion… Feeling so helpless and sad for these people whose homes and lives were literally gutted by water and mold. We were simply messengers, the middle women helping to provide goods donated from all over. It didn’t feel like enough at the time, but anything and everything counts and is appreciated.

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The reverend’s wife and daughter told us stories and talked with us the majority of the time we were there; How they had rushed upstairs when they heard the water coming and rode it out until morning, thinking that they had lost everything. They didn’t realize that they had shelter in the church’s upstairs level until the following day, when they remembered the utilities were all based up there above where the water reached and had survived the storm-for the most part. That very day they began to turn the church into a shelter and donation station, communicating with the Occupy Sandy folks via a laptop and setting up a place where people could come get the supplies that they needed. The way that these people went immediately to work to help their community was incredible and completely inspiring.

We smiled and hugged them before leaving just before dusk settled in, my heart was heavy but full leaving them. I can’t shake the feeling that even though what Isabel and I did was in itself an act of selflessness, what I came away with from that experience was invaluable and something that I’ll never forget. Life is not what the 11:00 news makes it out to be: Widespread devastation, violence, hunger and hopelessness, it is about what happens in between and after. Our humanity and being lies in the perseverance and hope in the face of loss, and the strength and love that stands in it’s coat of armor as the dust settles around it. I am changed from not only our experience riding out the hurricane, but witnessing the goodness in people, from those that donated in any way, shape or form and by the people that we met that gave their time, energy, and in some cases every single thing they had to help others.

On our way home, Isabel and I stopped at the Coney Island Boardwalk to take a walk as the sun set. I had never been, but she had spent many childhood summers there. Even though we could see the effects of the hurricane, it was more than fitting that just as we got there the sun had cast a golden, warm glow onto everything in it’s path.

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For the first time in it’s history, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs closed it’s doors from the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

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I am so grateful to everyone that contributed to our Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. Huge thank you to Target, Pampers and GM Northeast, without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank you to Isabel for being a great friend and overall incredible human being, and for all of those who spent their hard-earned money and sent boxes upon boxes to my home: Allison Zapata, Amy Bair, Erin Lane, Melissa Rofer, the families at my daughter’s preschool and many others whose names were left off of their Amazon shipping labels! I am so grateful to know you.

If you are interested in contributing to the ongoing relief efforts for those effected by Hurricane Sandy, I would suggest visiting the Occupy Sandy website as they have a ongoing and updated list of who needs what and how to get it to them.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol February 2, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Speechless and grateful. Not surprised, as you and Isabel are two of the kindest, most generous people I know with your heart and goodwill. xoxo

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Kat February 2, 2013 at 5:42 pm

You ladies are amazing! You absolutely prove that regular people CAN help in times of need. I love that you moved your empathy to action. Inspiring!

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stefanie February 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm

This is so wonderful! We did something similar in my community in Henderson, NV in November. I love seeing all the good deeds you and your friends do. It’s so inspiring!

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Brittany February 2, 2013 at 9:58 pm

I am so honored to know you two amazing, strong and world-changing women!

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Courtney Byrne February 3, 2013 at 1:00 am

This is amazing! What a wonderful thing you did!

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Mamaintheburbs February 3, 2013 at 2:01 am

I grew up on Long Island and now I live outside of Boston. I felt helpless after Hurricane Sandy. I donated financially but would of loved to have done what you ladies did. I commend you both!! It was sad to see pictures of Coney Island. My grandparents grew up there. But again, knowing that people like you both are making a difference, heals my heart from afar.

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YUMMommy February 4, 2013 at 5:55 am

I am so very touched by your generosity! Despite all that you and your family went through with Sandy, your heart was still with others who were more in need. I wish that there were more people like you in this world. Also, this is a testament to how strong the connections we made as bloggers are.

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Glamamom February 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Great job ladies!

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Isabel @alphamom February 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Thank you so much Jessica for all that you do and to GM Northeast, Pampers, Target and all the parents who donated their money to help others. I am so happy that you shared this story.

Also, I can’t tell you how happy I was to see the Coney Island boardwalk still standing. I was so afraid it had been washed away, like the boardwalks of the Rockaways and New Jersey shore.

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Pam at Triple Threat Mommy February 5, 2013 at 3:24 am

You are good soul, Jessica.

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Monica February 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm

I read this post when you first shared it on FB and made a mental note to come back and comment because it made me love your space even more. I love that you use your platform to share causes rooted in social good. I love you took the time (amidst your own family’s displacement) to help out and collectively bring some big companies together. And I think it’s so important that you took the time to write this post – because sharing stories like this often creates a ripple effect. My husband and I did a lot of volunteer work with Occupy Sandy and the amount of damage is mind-boggling. I should take the time in my own little space to share more of this sort of stuff – thanks for making me think about it.

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Lisa February 18, 2013 at 3:21 am

I’ve been reading about the horrible devastation left behind by Hurricane Sandy, and marveling at the strength of the people most affected by it. Again, after reading this, I feel so blessed.

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Nuria (@soynuriaperez) February 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

What an amazing person you are Jessica. Takes citizens as awesome as you are to make NYC the unbelievable place it is. So glad I have found you via Instagram.

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