As we're all well aware by now, on Monday October 29th New York City and surrounding areas were devastated by a super-storm-system named Sandy.

Though a relatively week storm, she brought much rain, wind, and sand into these densely populated areas which were totally unprepared. I was perhaps most unprepared of all, with no food or water stocked up in case of emergency, no plans for a loss of power or clean/hot water, etc. So I headed to the nearest evacuation center, just a few blocks from my apartment, to weather the storm. I would make do. I would survive. And I would help others however and wherever possible.

The photos below tell my story.
I took these photos on Sunday evening. The subways were going to be shut down in a few hours. This is always a little crazy for us New Yorkers who depend on the train system to get around. 

After arriving at home I decided that I should devise a plan. I had not bought any food or water, so I filled all these liquor and soda bottles with tap water. My roommate was planning to spend the next couple nights at his girlfriend's apartment. Not wanting to remain alone at my apartment through a hurricane, I invited myself to join them. They bought me cheesy mac to eat and the little spice packet had a strange cautionary message.
The storm didn't really begin until Monday afternoon. I headed over to the shelter, a middle school located just a block from the apartment where I spent the night. There were very few evacuees, probably not more than five. There were far more volunteers! I ate lunch and played board games with other volunteers, including several friends from the Heights TGC.

In the evening, a few of us set up about thirty cots that had been provided by some city agency or another. There were three rooms for sleeping - one for single men, another for women, and one for families. We were told on Monday that forty people would be sent over from there, but in the end it was only about twelve.
I volunteered at the shelter for much of Monday and again on Tuesday evening, even though my neighborhood of Washington Heights was hardly affected by the storm. Nobody in the Heights, that I've talked to, suffered any damage or even lost power. Thus there were never many evacuees at the site - and I believe that those who were there had come from other shelters downtown that were without power and water.

I worked from home on Wednesday and went back to work at Darling on Thursday morning. Broadway was unusually busy for 6:30am, teeming and gridlocked with taxis, buses, police, and ambulances. The subways were still out. In the afternoon, long lines of people waited to fill up at gas stations in the Heights.
I began to hear from friends in the Heights that there were still great needs at another shelter in the neighborhood, George Washington High School. So I went on Saturday to see what it was like. Similar to the other shelter, there were far more volunteers than needed. I was able to find a couple doors to guard for a short while. In the gym, a large group of singers came to perform for the displaced families.

I was very proud to see that many of the volunteers at the school were comrades from either TGC or Word Up. I heart my hood!
Speaking of loving my hood, local politicians and organizations (mostly Dominican) began planning an event to raise funds for relief efforts in Staten Island. On Saturday night I received an e-mail from an arts organizer in the neighborhood seeking local performers to join the event. I jumped at the opportunity. And with less than 48 hours to plan, a Spanish telethon event, Uptown Cares, was under way on Sunday afternoon. 

I arrived late into the event, but waited patiently to be allowed on stage. It almost didn't happen and I had to really push forward and remind the production crew that this white boy wanted to play some music and support this cause! I awkwardly introduced myself in Spanish and rushed through my new song Sing At The Top Of Your Lungs. 

The telethon raised about $167,000, which I'm sure I had nothing to do with whatsoever. Still, I'm proud to have joined my community in supporting the victims in Staten island. And somehow I doubt I'll ever see that footage, haha.
The more that I saw photos, videos, and news reports coming from the most-affected areas in the city, the more itchy I was to get out of uptown Manhattan and down into the trenches. Finally I had a day off yesterday, more than a week after the storm, and had a chance to go down to Far Rockaway, to help people clean up their homes and streets. 

At 168th street I serendipitously met and joined a group from a Chelsea church called Dream Center. They were also headed to the Rockaways, where friends of theirs live and are coordinating relief efforst from their home. 

It took almost three hours to get there by subway and bus; but once we arrived, around 11a, we got straight to work. I helped a family clear their possessions, covered with sand, water, and other debris out of a crawl-space basement. After completing this task, I sought out the YANA Community Center (You Are Never Alone), located just five blocks from the home that the Dream Center crew was based at. The YANA space is one of the main hubs for Occupy Sandy relief efforts. I found out about it when I stumbled across this heart-warming video.

The Occupy efforts were a bit disorganized, as should be expected, but I greatly appreciated the heart behind their work. I volunteered a bit of time by helping to order the aisles of this distribution center, where neighbors have been coming to find food, clothes, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and more.

Below are many more pictures from the past week, especially from my day at Far Rockaway Beach yesterday.
This is the extent of my help with Sandy relief efforts so far, but I will definitely continue. I'm working to organize a group to head back to the Rockaways next Tuesday. 

Please bear in mind that there is a big storm coming in today and tomorrow. These regions are expected to be hit very hard again. Please keep these desperate and vulnerable communities in your thoughts and prayers - and once the storm passes, perhaps you can volunteer a bit of time and energy yourself if you are able. 

Your help is needed! 
 



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