Over the weekend, Mercury One partnered with the nonprofit organizations 'Somebody Cares' and 'Crisis Relief International' to provide relief to those in need following Hurricane Sandy. Yesterday, the largest event took place as well over 200 hundred members of the Lindenhurst, NY community joined volunteers to enjoy a hot meal, pray, and stock up on items they were desperately in need of.
Not knowing what to expect, I, along with a few of my Mercury co-workers, made the trek out to Linderhurst on Sunday morning to help. As we got closer and closer to the impacted community, much of Sandy's toll was easy to see: massive trees were missing half of their branches, there were signs at the end of each street warning looters of their inevitable fate, tarps covered roofs and broken windows were borded…But, as we heard stories from the residents of the neighborhood, we began to realize that the damage went much deeper than what we could see.
The Day of Hope took place in a big field between rows a houses that reminded me of small beach community. After setting up for The Day of Hope, Kelly [a colleague from Mercury] and I took a walk to the shoreline that was just a a couple hundred yards in front of the park. The closer we got, the more evident the storm damage was: piles of wood, gutters, roofing, even a sink that had been ripped out of a home, were in piles along the side of the road.
As we came across residents, the stories we heard were shocking. One man, who lived further up the street, told us about how he and his family had stayed during the storm. He described how fast the water flooded their home and how his fourteen-year-old son had gotten his wife and dog out of the house to safety. Pointing to Kelly, who is maybe 5'5", he said, "my wife's about your size, the water was up past her check, but my son was able to hold on to her and our dog and get out of there." He chuckled, mostly to hold back tears, and looked over at an empty lot.
"Every time I start to feel bad for myself, I remember that there use to be two homes there," he told us before heading back down the street to his home.
I noticed how deserted the town seemed. Aside from the Day of Hope volunteers, there were hardly any cars driving by or residents outside of their homes. It was as if the storm had taken place just last week, but the sad truth is, it's been close to a month since the residents of Lindenhurst have even had electricity.
Everyone we met at the Day of Hope had a story of their own, stories no one is telling you on the news. Stories of looters, denied FEMA claims, and terrifying storm experiences.
One woman explained to us that looters were coming up to the shore on Jet Skis and breaking into homes — something I had never heard of in my life. Many of the men we spoke to had been sleeping in their garages with a shotgun and a dog to protect what was left from thieves.
Living just thirty miles away in Manhattan, it was hard to wrap my head around what was happening so close by, and was frustrated to know how few people even know this is happening while we carry on like Sandy never happened.
Kenton, another Mercury colleague, helped met an older veteran with bad knees. He couldn't stand in the line where we were handing out food and supplies, so Kenton walked along with him, helping him collect the items that he needed. While they walked, he shared with Kenton that earlier this year he had lost his wife and soon after, had contemplated suicide, but his son and his daughter kept him going. During the hurricane, his house was under seven feet of water, and now his son and his grandson are staying with him. He told Kenton, "well I suppose I'm gonna have to learn how to cook now, you know my wife always did the cooking." As they were loading the things into his car, he was choked up that this many volunteers came to help out, was grateful for the hope they had given the neighborhood.
Despite the heartbreaking stories we heard throughout the day, the real stories were the ones of charity and love.
Two volunteers, Brian and Tommy, who heard about what Mercury One and the other organizations were doing this weekend, went to Costco and bought around $37,000 worth of supplies on their own dime. They dropped up a box trucked loaded with paper towels, cereal, diapers and granola bars first. Then, when they realized we were short on cleaning supplies, they went to Lowes and Costco again, and came back with pallets of mold cleaners, bleach, cleaning gloves, hand warmers, and thick socks. These were the same men who brought supplies to help Mercury One's efforts in Coney Island last month.
It was because of the volunteers who showed up to help and people like Brian and Tommy, that we were able to give the residents of Lindenhurst a little hope.
For those of us who aren't from this area, it's easy to think that the people hit by Hurricane Sandy have a place to go and get the help they need. Being from Georgia, I grew up in an area where there is a mega church in every town — if a disaster hit, they were first on the seen. There would be a place to sleep, get a warm mean, shower and find support. That infrastructure isn't strong in this area, and it makes a world of difference. But, as people made their the line of supplies yesterday and enjoyed a warm meal, you could see the look in their eyes begin to shift, even if it was just a little bit. So many, who came through the park gate looking exhausted, on edge, and distraught, now had a small light of hope in their eyes.
They would look at our vests and ask, "Mercury One? Is that who is helping us today? Who is that?" As I would tell them, they almost all had the same reaction: "Thank you for helping us and not forgetting about us."
All of the volunteers who came out to help yesterday were some of the nicest, most generous people who I have ever met. There were volunteers from Chicago, Texas, and more from right here in Manhattan. Despite the exhaustion, the tears, and the trials the people we met yesterday were experiencing, it's safe to say we brought them a light of hope.
I'm proud to work for one of, if not the only, media company with a charity.