A group of more than 50 Cornellians went to The Rockaways in Queens, New York, this weekend to volunteer with relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
After the storm devastated regions along the east coast, Diana Cheung ’13 and Luke DeFisher ’13 decided that they wanted to help people who are rebuilding after the destruction. Over the last few weeks, they helped plan the trip.
After her mom agreed to pay for a charter bus to transport student volunteers from Ithaca to Queens, Cheung contacted various student organizations about the trip — resulting in “random groups of students just coming together,” Cheung said.
While there, volunteers helped remove debris and clear out basements, among other tasks, at about 30 damaged homes.
Luke Nicholson ’14 said he was shocked by the amount of work that remained to be done in the areas most affected by Sandy.
“I couldn’t believe how bad the conditions were,” Nicholson said.
He described one of the basements that he worked in as one of the “worst environments” he had ever been in, and said that at one point, volunteers had to discard the remains of a dead dog that was left behind by its owner.
Many of the areas that were affected included retirement communities, and volunteers told stories about some residents who had injured their backs while cleaning up damage after the storm.
“People that are there are trying to salvage their own stuff, but it’s too much for them,” said Richard Pongvitayapanu ’13, one of the volunteers.
According to volunteer Andrew Degatano ’13, many of the residents are still trying to live their lives and “be as normal as possible.”
However, the storm’s damage has made it difficult for those living in areas where the ocean rose approximately five feet above its normal levels. Some volunteers had to shovel away sand that had built up along the side of one house, according to Nicholson.
Residents in the area also told volunteers that insurance companies had refused to cover some of the cost of the damages, prompting homeowners to pay for the necessary repairs out of pocket, Nicholson said.
“Homeowners really need the volunteers,” Morris McGinn ’15, a student volunteer, said.
Despite the grim conditions, Nicholson said that “everyone maintained a positive attitude” throughout the trip.
Many of the volunteers agreed that the experience was positive, and some are eager to return to the area to give additional support.
“Volunteering is a reminder that everyone is human,” Degatano said. “No matter who you are or where you come from, we will always need help at some point.”
Although only a handful of students were able to make the trip to The Rockaways, many Cornellians, including members of Dilmun Hill Student-Run Farm, members of the Alpha Zeta fraternity and various professors, helped by lending supplies such as wheelbarrows and shovels for the volunteers to use this weekend.
“I’m really impressed how all the Cornell students helped out. We didn’t have to bring a whole busload down, but there is strength in numbers,” Cheung said.
While they were out of town, volunteers stayed at the Nuestros Niños Child Development preschool in Brooklyn, according to Cheung.
Cheung said she will be returning to The Rockaways this upcoming weekend over break with Cornell alumni, as well as the following weekend with another group of student volunteers.
“I think the greatest thing you can give is your time,” she said. “There is so much to be done.”
Original Author: Tyler Alicea