Today, my family and I volunteered to drive to one of the towns not far from us on Long Island most hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy and hand out cases of water and cleaning supplies. It was an experience I’m not sure we will ever forget.
Last weekend I had taken a bike ride to some of my favorite places in our community, the places I have loved and enjoyed so much because they are right near the water. The same places that were hardest hit by the storm surge from this powerful storm almost three weeks ago. By looking at many of the homes from the outside I couldn’t see anything wrong, but what I could see was all of the insides, the guts of their homes, lying on the front of their sidewalk, exposed for the world to see; broken sheet rock, splintered wood, ripped up pieces of insulation, rolled up rugs, furniture, and appliances.
What was left inside their houses?
Today, we found out. Almost nothing.
We picked up some water and some cleaning supplies and found our location for which we were responsible. The first person we talked to was Rachel, who had a young daughter. She described that the storm surge came over their five-foot fence and was lapping at their door even though they live on the second floor. They just got power over the weekend, but still, still, do not have heat.
Her sister moved in with them and brought her children as well. All of the children are now not feeling well, spending so long without electricity, without heat. They lost their car and don’t have a way to get to a doctor or to get laundry done or to get food or other supplies.
As we brought her another case of water, she broke down, tears dripping down her face, the overwhelming emotions too much to hold in even in front of strangers. When we got back to our car, I looked at my little girl and saw her looking sad. She’s so sensitive, like both her parents, and she was also overwhelmed, unable to handle the intensity of her emotions.
We got back into the car and all took a breath. We knew we had been lucky, but this was making it more real than we had even imagined.
We knocked on more doors, getting no answers, but also meeting people who were okay, who appreciated our help and supplies and who had things they needed to share and finally someone to share it with.
Then we met Eileen.
She is a mother of two who took me up on my offer of water.
“I’m a little dazed,” she said. Being dazed after almost three weeks struck me as disconcerting and I asked her what had happened.
She had an enormous pile of broken sheet rock and wood littering her entire front sidewalk, spilling over into the street. She went on to explain to me that she had finally gotten help ripping out the sheet rock and walls in her basement and first floor only to find out this morning from an architect that the foundation of her home had been so badly damaged by the storm surge that her house was going to be condemned.
Putting aside the money and effort that was completely wasted, I can’t imagine spending almost three weeks trying to figure out how to recover from this terrible disaster only to then find out that your entire home is going to be condemned.
I listened to her for a few minutes, gave her some water and cleaning supplies and she went to try and clean the things in her children’s rooms before the mold got to them, hoping the foundation would support her until she finished. As we left, she asked me to say a prayer for her.
I remember thinking, “She told me her house is being condemned, and I gave her water.” What we did today didn’t feel like enough, but it was better than nothing, better than showing up empty-handed.
I also hope it helped them to know people haven’t forgotten them, that as the press leaves and the attention moves on to something else, there are still people thinking of them and remembering them in our prayers.
It’s not enough, I know it isn’t, but I also know we can’t help everyone. We just need to try and help who we can and hope that it makes something of a difference in their lives, in their road to recovery.