How can I help…and what’s in it for me?

A handmade quilt and cap made by some Astoria (Queens) crafters to contribute to the post-Hurricane Sandy aid efforts.

I admit to a bit of depression setting in over the hurricane recovery. It didn’t hit our house—we were fine—but several friends had flooding and are still without electricity. I feel helpless.

I spent another day down in the Rockaways over the weekend. I was needed to drive again and I was happy to do it, but there were a lot of other people helping, too—maybe because it was a mild day. I helped with some unloading of food and cleanup at two church centers, but that was it; I sort of felt “extra.”

I think the aid groups that have formed post-Sandy are terrific, and I believe they are helping people who need it. But someone on a social networking site, a stranger, told me he felt OccupySandy was filtering resources away from established charities. This comment bothered me. I don’t believe that’s true—I believe the group is filling in a gap. There are things people can do without being trained. I realize “Occupy” is a political hot button, but you know, people have issues with certain facets of organized religion, too, and you can’t deny that Catholic Charities was one of the larger charities helping with the storm relief. Most of the churches and synagogues were hubs of neighborhood aid efforts. The Assembly of God sent an entire tractor-trailer full of food and equipment.

I donated to the Red Cross, too. The Red Cross does a lot in disasters, but the truth is, I didn’t see a big Red Cross presence in the Rockaways. They were there, don’t get me wrong. But one place we spotted a Red Cross truck was in a barren parking lot between two high-rise apartment complexes, and there was hardly anyone around. The workers weren’t sure where to distribute the food they’d brought. I wondered what their procedure was—had they gone into the high rises and knocked on doors to see if anyone was up there needing help? Were they texting or tweeting with other areas to see who needed food? That was one of the things OccupySandy was helping to do. With electricity still being out, elderly and disabled people were pretty much trapped in their apartments if they lived a few stories up (or even one story up, if they couldn’t use the stairs). Volunteers had been canvassing neighborhoods and high-rise buildings to see if residents were OK and to give them addresses of where they could get help.

The length of time an organization has been established does not necessarily mean it will do a better job helping people. OccupySandy and AstoriaRecovers were two groups I knew of that quickly helped connect people who wanted to help with people who needed help.

Volunteers gather at a small Astoria donation site to transfer supplies down to the Rockaways.

They had a pretty active online presence and I was able to find them through the Twitter hashtags #sandyvolunteer and #sandyaid. I found those hashtags through other hashtags, #hurricanesandy + #recovery. (Hashtags let you find people who have tweeted about similar topics in the past or who are tweeting live about a particular event). So I found the groups, found something they needed help with that I could do, and did it.

But truthfully, I wish I could do more. I wish I were trained in construction and other skills. I found out a few days ago about my friend’s house being seriously damaged by the flooding. He and his family are staying elsewhere. I can possibly help with part of his clean-up (he can only do it during daylight hours), but he needs a licensed electrician to check his house. I don’t know any licensed electricians off-hand. All the wonders of social media probably won’t make one materialize. But I have asked about it on Twitter and Facebook and crossed my fingers. Maybe the right person will see the tweet or the post at the right time and respond.

It makes me wonder, if I were trained in construction, would I be thinking about how I could make money off the tragedy? Honestly—yes, most likely. I would probably donate some time, and certainly not be charging higher prices, trying to rip people off, but I’d still want to get paid for my skills.

As it is, I am keeping my eyes open for some work that I could possibly do with an insurance agency or other business, processing claims or applications. I’m working now, but it’s temporary and I have no idea how long the job will last. I’m always looking for new opportunities, especially ones where I don’t have to spend money commuting into Manhattan.

Am I being opportunistic by mentioning this on my blog? No … yes … maybe. I doubt I’ll be offered a position because of this, but one never knows who might spot it and have something he or she needs help with. In the meantime I keep doing what I can do.

My supervisor told me yesterday that she might not have enough work for me to come in today. That happens sometimes. If I don’t have to work … well, I’ll lose a day’s pay, but it’ll give me the opportunity to go help someone else—my friend if he needs another hand, or OccupySandy again. It won’t be as crowded as on the weekends, and I probably won’t feel like an extra. In response to my headline question, “What’s in it for me?” It makes me feel good to do something. I get to meet people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I get to help people. I feel needed and appreciated.


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