My Story – Ohioan Inspired to Help Volunteer for Storm Sandy Relief Efforts Through Occupy Sandy

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My Story — by Tish Hopkins, Lorain, Ohio

Ohioan Inspired to Help Volunteer for Storm Sandy Relief Efforts Through Occupy Sandy

Nov 29th I embarked on my adventure to the East Coast to volunteer for victims of the storm called Sandy that was devastating to this part of our country!  As I sat in the dark for 3 days in Lorain, Ohio back in October, 2012—believe it or not—as a result of the very same storm that wiped out complete communities in the East—knocked out our power and downed trees in the neighbors back yard on to the electric wires over the creek—

While spending 3 powerless days, I really began to think how these people must feel.  I could only imagine a small fraction of their discomfort. And I do mean small fraction.

What we take for granted—electricity and all the conveniences that this commodity brings to us are plenty.

I begin this journal with how this storm affected areas as far west as Ohio, not to bring attention to “whoa is me, I was without power for 3 days” when people living in NJ and NYC have endured far worse continuing conditions—but to share the power this storm had on the changes in my life and the power it gave me to know I could make a difference in the lives of others by using this experience to dig deep within me for compassion of others plights who are far worse off. My simplicity (although it didn’t feel that way at the time) of having to set an alarm every 90 min throughout the night to wake up and go bail out my sump pump in the basement with a pitcher then alternate it with a little shut eye repeating this routine many times getting little sleep until following day I figured out how to set up /use a generator.

I was reading a novel by lantern, which is basically all I could do besides sleep. Again thinking of the East Coast, many of whom didn’t have access to a generator, nor really anything to generate.

As I sat in the “relative” comfort of my home those nights, I thought what can ONE person do to help these people; In fact, can One person make a difference. I felt this to be true and as I further examined this thought I became more convinced that progress begins with just that one person. Being a retired teacher, i have nothing but time–and I felt time= money — yep I am a viable resource– I started getting my life in order paying bills, winterizing things to close up house for 2 weeks.

After contacting my cousin, a great role model for me to follow as she had volunteered to help with the first tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004 and Katrina., she gave me ideas of organizations to assist.  This group was known as Occupy Sandy at this juncture. As I learned later, the founders of this were originators of Occupy Wall Street. Quite an interesting impressive bunch of people devoted to solidarity in all endeavors to help this cause and this country.

My trip began Nov 29th, just one month after this storm.

I had numerous communications initially to a person in NYC as this is where I was to go first; but after much thinking of logistics, with having a car and affordable places to stay where I could park for reasonable cost( after all I was volunteering)—I began to correspond with people to help with NJ instead.  Also, it seemed so many people were going to NYC and not many nor $$ going to NJ and they were just as devastated by this storm. After much persistence in emailing to a guy named Nate, I received details of where I could be of use.  This was a bold move for me as I was someone who did not take a lot of risks and liked things that I knew what the actual plan was from day to day.  A leap of faith that I was being called to a greater service!

So I packed my new car to the top with donations from friends and myself driving first to Philadelphia for volunteer training. Eight hours and 444 miles later I arrived to my first accommodations courtesy of brother-in-law-sister-in-laws. In Havertown, Pa. I could stay there a few days for training.

Nov 30th, my work begins—at a downtown Philly warehouse from noon to 5pm sorting, stocking, inventorying donations from all over the country!! Besides the core of “principals” of this organization who are all volunteers, I found out later I was their 1st ‘official’ volunteer at this warehouse for the storm relief efforts—A“hub” as they called it. My first tasks were to learn about a system of inventory that they were working on to keep track of donations. The building used was The Transport Workers Union warehouse (TWU Local 234) at 500 N. 2nd St. Philadelphia as our main hub. This union donated the warehouse space for the purpose of serving as a large “hub” of operations for donations and a volunteer base to travel in and out of New Jersey.

December 1st was my first full day and I do mean full! It was extended quite late. The warehouse had received a large semi truck full of donations from Maine and other places which we began unloading and organizing. We set up sections of the floor area for clothing, cleaning supplies, non perishable foods, toiletries, safety items etc. much discussion on distribution system to set up for stuff coming in/going out.  Actually this was fun being on the ground floor of this challenging process.  Their first inventory system was tough to implement without more volunteers to keep track of the influx-out flux of stuff.

As we began unloading and organizing calls started coming in from NJ hubs of things they needed from their “needs assessments” asap. I loaded my car and took the first carload by myself to Manasquan, NJ which just about at the coast. This is where I met two great ladies, Dawn DeLuca and Kat Visich who I would interface with again later in my travels.  So my first adventure “out into the field” began at 4pm when I left the Philly Hub and I arrived back at 8 p.m.! Yes it was a long, but rewarding day knowing I was able to get some much needed items to another distribution point in this process.

On Dec 4th I joined Nate Kleinman and Dylana Dillon along with the Perkins’ family of 4 including children, who also drove to Philly from Ohio! to volunteer bringing with them a huge van and trailer full of donations from their church, driving these and other donations to the Wildwood, NJ area where we learned the VFW hall had donated space to distribute these things to local residents and displaced people from Seaside Heights and other nearby towns wiped out by the storm who were staying in hotels.  A Ramono, Gioia Ristoranta owner, arranged to serve a free dinner to all of these displaced people after they had selected items from what we brought to the VFW hall.  This event was well received and a reporter from the L.A. Times arrived to do a story on what the needs were in this area and what FEMA and other groups were doing to address these needs.

I, along with the Perkins family returned the next day to begin helping a self-appointed local resident who was helping coordinate some relief efforts in town.  After free housing for us did not work out we stayed at a local hotel for a couple of nights.

Two memorable things came out of this part of my journey.  I met Dawn Righter, a 77 yr old widow who had recently lost her husband only then to have her home flooded by backwaters.  She suffers from COPD and was all alone trying to salvage items from a home with years of memories and stuff!  I had brought with me, from a friend’s monetary donations, an OSHA approved mask that Dawn was just tickled to get as a gift—the mold in her place would be affecting her real soon had she not received this mask.  We assisted her for a couple of days sorting and moving stuff in her house.  Being able to help her really touched me in many ways; I think of her often and wonder how she is getting along now a year later. In addition to this I canvassed the area to meet and line up contacts for a resource fair Occupy Sandy wanted to coordinate to help connect people with other community resources who could help them moving forward.

Dec 7th— From there I was requested to go further north to Pt. Pleasant/ Manasquan area where they needed reinforcements and organization of yet another mini-hub that was being coordinated by a local church Jersey Shore Dream Center & Presbyterian Church, led by Pastor Isaac. Pastor Isaac basically had a warehouse set up in his garage and at his church office that needed much help in organizing and matching the items there with the needs assessments that other volunteers, coordinated by Dawn DeLuca had been doing in the area. I assisted with this as well as joining this group and the boys and girls club who set up mini-distribution points caravanning to 3 different area hotels to deliver donations.

In addition to helping this church in their distributions I did some canvassing in the Pt. Pleasant area to get needs assessments from local residents. This was challenging as many of these residents were not at home and I felt like I was looking at Auschwitz! Many of the homes were marked with White X’s or Red X’s denoting a house that would be demolished completely uninhabitable and that no one should be in the house! It was like a war zone. I met with a couple of men who were working on their houses –one you could see complete day light and put your hand through an cracked opening in the foundation of his home and the basement was full of displaced sand from the beach along the shore. His home stood barely with the front porch ripped off its foundation! Another home I came upon had a cardboard sign on the front door alongside of an American Flag.  The note read that Grandma and Grandpa were safe and that they Would Rebuild the family home and memories would be made there again someday.  Revisiting these parts of my story still give me chills that by the Grace of God these homes were spared complete destruction but that so many lies had been affected.  Besides this part–This was a truly fun and rewarding day!!

I set up house at the pastor’s office which was quite an adventure as I had brought along a blow up mattress and microwave food stuff—a campout began J Using a public restroom (no shower) was a quite fun part of the experience. That evening for entertainment I inventoried the entire office room that was stuffed floor to ceiling with donations so that Dawn DeLuca who was coordinating this effort from NYC would know what they had for the next round of deliveries coming up without having to travel back.

Dec 9– I began the trek back to the Philly warehouse and found accommodations with Laura Murphy, a principal in the Occupy Sandy organization, who kindly provided a room and shower (yea!) for a couple of days while I helped with volunteer phone banking in the warehouse and continued to help with distribution of goods to the other satellite places

My Journey ended on December14th when I arrived back home in Ohio having traveled 1540 miles, tired, but renewed in the human spirit that yes one person from Ohio can make a difference in the lives of others devastated by a storm.  I continued to do phone banking from my home computer through part of January to solicit other volunteers from Occupy’s website data bank from all over the country to help continue this worthy cause.

I would also like to use this opportunity on the 1 year Anniversary of this devastating storm to give a shout out of THANKS for all the tireless hours that the Occupy Sandy organizers, many of whom were volunteers as well, who I worked with, who trained me and guided me to where I could be useful to those who needed help in receiving goods and services they had lost in this storm. So to the Philly Warehouse crew of Nate Kleinman, Dylana Dillon, Laura Murphy, Iwanka Kultschyckyj, Larry Swetman, Sara Baicich, and Julia Alford-Fowler, to those out in the field at Monmouth, Amanda Geraci and Matt Goodsell, and Pt Pleasant/ Manasquan coordinators, Dawn DeLuca and Kat Visich. And Pastor Isaac and his wife from Jersey Shore Dream Center & First Presbyterian church in Manasquan who gave me shelter and allowed me to team with them to help many people along the shore. And to all the other people who I met along the way whose names I don’t know; I thank You all for incorporating me into your team and sense of community and solidarity to help our fellow men and women recover.

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