Monday, February 4, 2013

Hurricane Relief

Michele Yacovello
Guest Post

Something like Superstorm Sandy can bring friends together to help each other. We're those kinds of friends.

As the three month mark approaches, I look back at the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy and realize there is so much people haven’t heard about.  You have all seen the pictures and read the stories, but I’m offering a different perspective: one of a neighbor who has become a daily volunteer at a grassroots organization, Guyon Rescue.

On October 30, I left my house to see what Hurricane Sandy did to my neighborhood.  After driving a short distance I realized I had to do something. I went home and packed several bags of things that I thought would be needed at local high schools which were now acting as shelters (towels, clothes, blankets, sneakers, toiletries and games and crafts to keep the children occupied).  After dropping these things off, I read a friend’s post on Facebook that said they were putting together flood buckets to distribute. These buckets contained: garbage bags, paper towels, work gloves, bleach, spray bottles and scrub brushes.  I enlisted the help of family and friends, and collected about $1000 and sent my brother-in-law to Home Depot. We loaded our cars with about 30 flood buckets filled with supplies, cases of water, granola bars and hand warmers.  We started to drive up and down the blocks only a few short miles from my home.  Up and down the blocks we went, windows rolled down, asking people what they needed. Some had a harder time than others accepting help. Some cried with us when we offered something as simple as toilet paper.  Some hugged us and prayed with us. Some simply thanked us for bringing them a hot cup of coffee.

This was only the beginning of my journey. Two days later I found myself making the same trip several times a day and I stumbled upon a nearby pop up donation center. I would stop by to see what they needed and if there was anything they had that I could bring to the people I was trying to help.  It was 
here that I first came in contact with Guyon Rescue, although at that time it wasn’t yet named. One week after Super Storm Sandy there was news that we would be getting snow in the coming days.  On alert, Guyon Rescue moved from it’s outdoor location to a nearby VFW Post.  What happened in a few short days was incredible - taking over the party room, it quickly morphed into a mini market.  In the first few days items were stored on tables, only to be taken over by shelving units that would appear in the middle of the night.  In a short time the store was born.  We had everything -  cleaning supplies, toiletries, clothing, towels, and food. Every single item has been donated.

Truckloads of goods would be dropped of at all hours.  A hundred volunteers would be there at a given time.  These volunteers weren’t just neighbors, they came from California, Massachusetts, Alabama, Florida and Ohio. Some came for an afternoon others for a week.  A firehouse in Yonkers continues to come as often as they can.  Marathoners from all over have been a huge part of our volunteer base.   It was quite an impressive operation as we began to collect data on the neighborhood to see who was affected and how.  In the coming weeks we supplied more than just food and goods, we became a very important part of the community.  A friend to those in need, a haven for others. 

In just over 90 days we have helped to gut hundreds of homes, provided thousands of meals, offered clothing, work boots, sneakers, coats and tools.  We have hosted a day of makeovers, two Christmas parties fulfilling wish lists for over 400 children and a fundraising event.Three months later I find myself at the Rescue a minimum of 5 days a week and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life.  I will continue to work with these families for as long as possible.  Families are still waiting to get back into their homes and some have; needs have changed and as they change so do we.  We are in it for the long haul, committed to see this to the end.  As newspaper stories get buried in the back of the paper and news reports become less frequent people begin to think that the recovery is completed when it’s just beginning.  We have seen a significant drop in volunteers and donations but we need them now as much as we did in the beginning.

I have had a difficult time taking my camera out to capture images of such horrific loss. Families didn’t just lose their homes, they lost every memory saved in a box in the attic, every photograph stored on a computer and hanging on a wall, every memento from a vacation.  Instead I use my cell phone to document what I see.  It’s so much less invasive yet allows me to share storytelling images.  The important thing to remember is not how the images are taken but that they are taken and shared.  

If anyone would like to become involved or learn more about what we do please feel free to contact me via Facebook:  . Donations can be made via PayPal using the link to the Staten Island Giving Circle  We are using the monies raised to meet the immediate needs of individual families. 


terriporter said...

Thanks, Carol, for bringing this to us and thank you, Michele, for sharing this. I have always thought that, for the most part, newspaper and television coverage of disasters like this stop far too soon. As you said, Michele, there is still so much need and people need to be told about it. Bless people like you who are continuing to help. said...

So humbling the power of the human spirit the generosity of so many absolutely wonderful.....

Dotti said...

You are so right, Michelle. The news stories, the videos, the pictures just can't tell the underlying story of heartache and pain. I witnessed this when my parents were victims of a major disaster. It's tough, it takes years to overcome. Bless you and your colleagues, Michelle. Your work is both needy and worthwhile. And thanks for sharing your story with us at FOL.

Olivia Fulmer said...

Beautiful story! The real work of recovery often begins so much later down the road when lives are ready to be put back together. Thank you for all you have done to help these families with their needs.

Leigh said...

Being across the country I had no idea that so much is still going on. Thank you for your post Michelle and making us aware of the ongoing efforts.

heyjudephotography said...

Living near your area, I see news reports of the devastation that still exists, and will exist for many many months to come. I know that when it's not the "new" story, that these things get pushed to back. Very sad to know that so many lives are still in utter upheaval, and most of the country doesn't even hear about it anymore. Your tireless work is such a blessing to so many people. It's going to be the "little" things that those people remember in years to come. God Bless you Michele, and your colleagues, for all that you are doing.

Carol said...

So glad we could offer this venue, Michele, to get the word out. I find you and those like you to be a huge inspiration. As all have said above - bless you!I'll be going through my house this weekend for all I can find that might be useful!

Deanna said...

Thank you so much, Michele for bringing this to the forefront again. A devastation like Hurricane Sandy does not end in a matter of weeks, it's heartache and rebuilding goes on for so long.

Kim Stevens said...

Living on the gulf coast of Texas and only 1 mile from Galveston Bay when Hurricane Ike hit I know only too's one thing to see devastation on the news, it is quite another to witness it first hand, to see everyone's belongings strewn everywhere. And it doesn't stop there, there is the aftermath of fires, and some who will never be able to rebuild. Almost 5 years later there is still rebuilding going on. Thank you for all your hard work and for sharing it here with us.

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