Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy hit just days after our wedding. 
In fact, some of our friends got stuck in Arizona 
and couldn't get back to their east coast homes for about a week. 
We were in Hawaii when we heard about the hurricane. 
We watched the news and couldn't believe the footage we were seeing of our neighborhood. 
Our building was mandatorily evacuated. 
But thankfully, it never lost power and didn't flood. 
Some of our friends in our ward were displaced for weeks. 
Some didn't have hot water and heat. 
And others had to move apartments altogether due to damage to their building. 

We couldn't believe the timing of everything. 
Our wedding. 
Our honeymoon. 
We were extremely fortunate to be on the other side of the country during the storm. 
But we felt guilty that we weren't there to help in even the smallest ways.  
Our church had organized volunteer work as part of Mormon Helping Hands. 
On our first weekend back, we were proud to wear the yellow vests 
and help out in some of the hard hit areas. 
Our first outing was spent in Breezy Point on the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. 
It's such a beautiful beach town. 
But the destruction was unlike anything I have ever seen firsthand. 
I covered tornado damage in the South, but this was different, and much worse. 
We took the subway to Brooklyn where we met up with other stake volunteers. 
Two bus rides later, we were split into groups, assigned to a missionary,
 and given a work order.
Some of the missionaries serving in the NY, NY mission spent the majority of their weeks finding homes who needed help from volunteers.
Then, each missionary would take a group of volunteers
 and divide and conquer on the weekends.
The organization was pretty amazing. 
We helped three homes on our first day. 
The first family we helped had owned their home for about 20 years. 
It was such a charming beach house, filled with memories. 
We met Mary, who had a to-do list for us to tackle. 
Lots of hammering, clearing, gutting, and sweeping took place that day. 
 Mary could not have been more grateful.
Her daughter found us working in a neighbor's yard later that afternoon.
 She called us her angels and thanked everyone for their help. 
She fought back the tears. 
So did I.
She invited us over for a beach bbq this summer when all is back to normal in Breezy Point. 
Mary, we will be there. 

Mary led us to her elderly Irish neighbor. 
He wasn't on our list of people to help. 
But staying with him for the next hour was the best decision.
He had recently lost his wife. 
We found him sifting through his possessions -- deciding what was worth keeping. 
We emptied his shed full of waterlogged Sports Illustrated magazines, 
tools, and baseball cards.
You can learn a lot about a person by the stuff they keep. 
He is a proud New Yorker, a Mets fan, and a family man. 
We were encouraged to leave each house with a prayer. 
This man was truly touched and even blessed us with an Irish prayer. 
It was my favorite part of the day. 

These next photos were taken on our second trip to the Rockaways. 
This time, our group was one of the last to arrive so we didn't get a list of homes to help. 
 We wandered the neighborhood for a bit until we came across a woman named, Lee. 
Lee rented the downstairs level of a home for 30 years. 
She had been staying with family in Brooklyn since the storm. 
That day was her first time back to her home to see the damage. 
It was unbelievable. 
There were dishes in the kitchen cabinets with standing water.
We found four mice -- dead and alive. 
And I think I had my first encounter with asbestos. 
This house was an experience, to say the least. 
I can't imagine coming home to this every day. 
It put my small challenges into perspective. 

Our new friends, Will and Amanda Egan. 
They made the work much more fun. 
So lucky to know them. 
Amanda was a trooper with the mice. 
I screamed. 
We saw this little guy while walking back to the buses. 
It was a great reminder of the resilience of this community. 
Although, there is still so much work to be done, 
people seem determined to pick up the pieces and move on. 

I was reminded of a lot on our trips to the Rockaways. 
I was reminded that stuff doesn't make a home -- people do. 
I was reminded that as long as you've got faith, family, good health, and good perspective, 
you've got everything. 
I was reminded of the goodness of humanity. 
Regardless of race, religion, etc., we all face challenges. 
And we all rely on one another for help. 
I was reminded that when we give of ourselves, in turn, we truly receive. 

Here is a short film of Mormon Helping Hands. 
How blessed we are to belong to this church. 
I'll wear the yellow vest any day. 


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