Some people are healthy and some people are not, so responses ranged from “thanks but no thanks” to “pull up a chair.” One person said, “I’m 86 years old and not taking any medications—I’m okay! In fact, I’m cooking dinner! Do you want some?” But then there was the guy who needed to get to chemo, and his wife who was going crazy trying to care for her husband who’s sick and a little cranky. She was really stressed out and I think it helped to let her step out of the room and let us talk to her husband for a while, because she hadn’t wanted to leave him.
One woman we met needed medication. There were no lights so we used flashlights to look at her pill bottles and see what she needed and in what dose. It was a blood thinner and it was dangerous for her not to have it. But her pharmacy was closed because of Sandy, so we were scrambling to try and get the medication for her. I was ready to borrow Josh’s bike and ride up to above 42nd Street to where there was power. But later on that night, the power started coming back on and after a series of phone calls we were able to get a dose for her, and just ran out to a pharmacy six blocks away and brought it back to her.
We’d knock on doors and people would say, “I haven’t spoken to anyone in three days. Thank God you’re here.” And I’d think, “I’m so grateful I can provide this solace to you, and this reconnection with the greater living world”—but also, “If that’s the case, we’re clearly doing something wrong as a city-dwelling species.”
One person I visited had left the stove on and had no idea. The flame was way up in the air. So I said, “Were you cooking?” And he said, “Oh, I cooked a few hours ago.” I said, “Your stove is still on.” And he said, “Oh, it is?”
We knocked on the door of a home on Washington Mews, and no one responded. We peered in through the mail slot and saw a power chair at the top of the stairs—which meant that someone who wasn’t very mobile lived there. We thought someone was in there but couldn’t answer. Eventually a home health aide answered, and delivered the message that we could help.
The creepy part was that all the hallways and the stairways were dark. And there was, of course, no working elevator. The rooms had natural light during the day, but that was it.
Having no water means you can’t flush a toilet, you can’t wash a thing, and you can’t drink. But bucket brigades to carry water up 30 flights of stairs are also really precarious because you’re likely to splash water on a darkened concrete stairway—and that’s a terrible, terrible risk.
Subsequent Volunteer Work
Over winter break I worked with Burners Without Borders to remove debris from Union Beach, New Jersey.
In addition to my work at NYU, outside the office, Sandy relief was practically all I did from November through the new year.
When Sandy happened I was scared at first, thinking, “I don’t know what to do.” But I ended up enjoying the opportunity, so now I volunteer with the Health Services and Disaster division of the Red Cross. When something else happens, I’ll have had more training.
From November 7 to November 25, more than 300 students, faculty, staff, and administrators volunteered more than 2,000 hours for Sandy relief efforts, serving about 20 non-profits. Through its partnerships with local organizations, NYU continued to pair willing volunteers with opportunities to lend a hand, many of which were organized through the Center for Student Activities Leadership, and Service and NYU Service Connect. Stay tuned for more stories from NYU volunteers and those they served in the storm’s aftermath.