Volunteer Testimonials: Hurricane Sandy Relief
Your organization does great things for people, it was an honor to work with you.
The work that Humanity First is doing with the hurricane clean up relief is amazing – so many people really need the help. It is great to see that an organization really has the best interest of people in mind and humbly go about their efforts without being asked. The outpour of committed individuals in your group was inspiring and it was my pleasure to work with your team. Every person demonstrated such care, and sensitivity when tending to someone’s house or needs.
Forty-eight hours ago, I was on my way to Long Beach in New York, as I volunteered with Humanity First for cleanup after Sandy. New York City looked all normal, streets crowded as always. We crossed the bridge and the access was made toll free to the Long Beach. And all of a sudden, the scenery changed. In front of beautiful houses, you see all their belongings. I went there with four other volunteers from aryland. There was another group of seven from Maryland. This was my first time and second for my brother and brother-in-law as they went there last week as well. Eight people came over from Virginia and 11 from Pennsylvania. In Long Beach, local police asked my group to do a residency survey, essentially knocking on each door to get the number of residents and the time the residency is occupied throughout the day to provide emergency services if needed.
We reached Staten Island around 10 am and registered ourselves at the Humanity First station. There were about 60 members of Humanity First there. Things didn't look that bad while we were going there. We were all given Humanity First T-shirts, gloves and face masks. The Humanity First had done an inventory of all the houses in the last few days by knocking at the houses and asking if they needed help.
We first went to Andrew Street and went to a house whose backyard had a lot of household things including baby items, baby toys, shelves, clothes, speakers, stereo and lots of other things that they had taken out from the house and were totally wet. The old lady there had already put stuff in large garbage bags. She had rented a dumpster that was outside the house. It took us about 1 hour to cleanup the backyard. She was about 65 years old and lived few blocks away and this was her property where her sister lived. The family evacuated before the hurricane. There was an independent small house at the back of the house where another family lived. There everything was completely wet. She wanted us to take out the bedroom furniture, but the furniture had to be unassembled and we didn't have any tools to that. We just took away the stuff that could be removed. She was very grateful to us.
Next we went to a lady's house who was 81 years old and had lived in that neighborhood since her childhood. She said that on the night of the storm she put some towels under the front door and went up to sleep. Around midnight she came down from the second floor to check downstairs and found out that water was there upto the middle of her staircase. All the downstair rooms were totally flooded. We had to take all the furniture out of her ground floor rooms on the curb. The cabinet we took out weighed 200 pounds as it was totally wet and had stuff inside it. She didn't want to open the cabinet. She was very sad, and said she has never seen anything like this in her entire life. She told us that many of her neighbors lost their cars. The cars looked fine from outside, but we could see that water had left its marks in the insides of the cars. There were many of them. This entire street was a mile away from the South Beach.
Next we went to a house where we helped with the basement cleanup. This belonged to a carpenter and had gone to Florida for his daughter's wedding. When he came back, he found out his entire basement was completely flooded which he rents. We had to gut out the carpets from his basement.There was a large mirror which broke while we were trying to take it out. We had to gather all the pieces of the mirror as it was a safety hazard. It was really hard to get the carpet out as everything was still wet and mold was developing. Everything looked horrible. His landlady was there taking pictures for FEMA. We were told that they didn't have flood insurance. FEMA was sending their inspectors to look at the properly. Most of the properties had signs outside by the city saying that there was structural damage to the buildings and the access to them was restricted.
From there we went to the next house, and saw a family looking at us from the second floor. That entire family came down and wanted to help the neighborhood with us. We got them registered as volunteers at our Humanity First station, and a young 8th grade girl, Brianna stayed with us till the end. Since she was a local, she gave us a great overview of the devastation as it happened. She was very impressed by the Humanity First efforts and promised to join the team next day on Monday as well as she was off from school.
While we were moving between the houses, people waved to us from their cars thanking us for our work. Once woman came down from the car and asked us about Humanity First and took our pictures.
Next we went to another street where there was an Italian family working in the house. They had only a single-story brick house. The father lived there with his son and daughter. The other son had an Italian restaurant in Freehold NJ and lived in Jersey. When we got there, they had already gutted out most of the walls and floor of the house. Now they were cleaning the two basement rooms they had. They started handing out to us tomato sauce jars. We threw away about 200 of those jars. We found out that they had a vegetable garden next to the house where they grew tomatoes. And they made homemade tomato sauce which they sell at their restaurant and also for family consumption. The jars had the month and the date when they were sealed. We found 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012 jars there. The family was still in good spirits. The son said that they will rebuild it better than before. We took a lot of stuff out of their house. There was huge pile outside the house. Again we got tons of prayers and thanks from the entire family.
Until this, we were in the houses that were a mile away from the beach. Our next assignment was on a house less than a block away from the beach. One of the volunteers took us in a car and we went to our next house. On the way to the beach, we saw the havoc caused by the force of water. We say a huge dumpster that floated in water and landed on a car completely crushing it. We saw cars that were smashed against each other, houses that were destroyed. Surprisingly, we saw businesses and stores that were now open for business. We were told that a woman lost her two babies (2 and 4 years old) at the beach in her car. Brianna showed us that car. She told us that the woman was at the beach, she got in the car and started moving but water starting coming fast on her. She left the car and went to the houses across the street to get help to get her kids out. But when she came back, the babies had been swept away by the gushing force of the water from the car. It was so tragic.
All the wooded areas and trees between the houses were destroyed, trees were uprooted, a floating car was pushed into the living room of a house by the force of water. We went to our next house. There was a 60 years old Russian man cleaning his basement and his sons were helping him. Since this area was close to the beach, there was sand in all the houses. Just across from the house there was a Jeep SUV that was smashed against the house by the water. The basement of the house was still wet with water. We had to drag stuff out of the house including the carpets, metal pieces, wood, and lot of sand. The sidewalk of the house was wet and still had 1 to 2 inches of water in it. His wife was in the backyard trying to salvage things. She didn't know much English but the father was able to communicate with us. He was also very grateful to us.
We were told that half of the people in that area evacuated beforehand. The rest had to move out after the storm as the city declared those dwellings unsafe for living. This is a very old neighborhood and the houses were 40 to 80 years old and mostly small. Half of the houses were stone/brick houses and had strong structure. There were some affluent households too but it was mostly a working class neighborhood. During the daytime, these people would come back to their houses to start the cleanup process and had their flashlights with them. Around 4:30, they started coming out and were sitting on their flooded cars and sharing their horror stories with the neighbors. Every house has a pile of debris outside. When we were done with that house, we walked towards the area on the beach where most of the relief efforts were going on. It was like a large camp. There was food, clothing, and other things for the local people by various relief organizations. A large number of our lajna members were there helping out and volunteering. We helped out a bit in the evening wrap up for the camp, as everything including clothes and shoes had to be back in the trucks before the sunset. We were told that the military was there the day before helping in the cleanup too.
I just wrote these few words as those of us who live in the suburbs think that now the hurricane is over and life is back to normal, but the reality is that there are thousands of people out there whose lives are still not back to normal and it will take a long time for these people to get back to normal. We should not forget them.
Humanity First is registered in 43 countries across 6 continents, and has been working on human development projects and responding to disasters since 1994. These have included the earthquakes in Turkey, Pakistan, Japan and Iran, floods in Africa and Latin America, hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) , tornado's (Kansas) and wild fires (California) in the USA, Indonesia and Bangladesh, and conflicts in Eastern Europe.
Since its inception and IRS registration in 2004, Humanity First has been focused on spending most of the raised funds on direct program related expenses. As a result, more than 90% of its funds are in that expense category. This is achieved through dedicated volunteers in its management, and program operation teams.