November 5, 2012

A number of SIPA students were active in relief efforts in the days following last week’s major storm. Following are accounts from four students; send your stories and photos to Neha Tara Mehta ’13 MIA and we’ll strive to share as many as we can here and/or on SIPA’s Facebook page.

Jessi Tseng MPA ’14

Over the weekend I volunteered with Team Rubicon to help with the disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, a beach [neighborhood] in Queens. Every single one of these homes were flooded and there is still no power in the area. I cannot begin to explain the devastation of the hurricane, and my pictures won't do it justice. The best that I can do is share with you all a story from my first day.

We were walking from house to house to help the residents clean up and take out the damaged furniture in their homes. I approached a woman in her mid-50s as she was carrying out a piece of her bed frame and I said “Ma'am, please let me help you with that.” she paused and turned to look at me. Tears immediately filled her eyes and she grabbed my arm and said “Thank you so much, but I really need to do this for myself.”

SIPA volunteers in the Rockaways.

I cannot even imagine losing everything overnight and I was speechless because I knew if that happened to me, I would have wanted to do the same. 

Over the weekend we went from house to house to help families remove furniture, dig out sand and mud, tear down drywall, drain the water from their homes, and load their damaged  belongings from the storm onto garbage trucks. I was amazed at the resilience and optimism from so many residents, and the gratitude they had for our help.

Please keep the victims of this disaster in your thoughts and prayers. If you have a day to volunteer and don't mind getting dirty, email to help! They will be there every day for the next few weeks and can really use the assistance.

Team Rubicon [a nonprofit organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations] is doing an amazing job helping the citizens of Rockaway beach and I promise it will be a very rewarding experience.

Other participants included Mellissa Ahmed MIA ’14, Ryan Beck MPA ’14, Sonya Kuki MIA ’14, Alex LaBua MIA ’13, Anthony Pusatory MIA ’14, Daniel Solomon MIA ’14,Terezie Taubelova MIA ’14, and Rainbow Wong MIA ’14.

See additional accounts after photo

Jessi Tseng shared this photo of storm damage in the Rockaways.

Charlotte Gossett Navarro MPA ’14, MSW ’14

As news of the magnitude of destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy reached me and I learned of the disparate impact and government response on the various NYC communities, particularly low-income, communities of color, I decided to volunteer.

My first day was with CAAAV, a community organization mobilizing a response in FEMA- and Red Cross-neglected Chinatown. There, many elderly [residents] and others with mobility concerns had not left their apartments or received any resources in five days. Like me, many had only prepared to be homebound for a day or two. I drove downtown with a car full of supplies and volunteers and arrived to find efforts well under way, with hundreds of volunteers delivering donations to buildings identified by CAAAV.

As our team left the buzz of activity behind and walked to a massive senior living center, the streets became bizarrely quiet. We climbed the building’s pitch-black stairwells into pitch-black hallways, and it became apparent how impossible it would be to expect residents to evacuate or seek support.

As we knocked on doors 16 stories up, elderly residents answered, many with walkers, few fluent in English and all resilient. Our supplies and multilingual volunteers were well received at each door. When we returned to CAAAV new volunteers and supplies were still arriving.

Today CAAAV reports that electricity has returned to most buildings, and they are encouraging volunteers to head to areas of greater need, such as the Far Rockaways. That is where I am headed to volunteer Monday and Tuesday — with classmates and a carload of supplies collected over the weekend. There is such need that there is a way for every person, whatever their capacity, to join the organizing efforts. For all, and especially the poor, who are affected by this storm, recovery will take many months and our support will be needed just as long. For more information on volunteering visit:

Danielle Schlanger MPA 14

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Class of 2014 Facebook group was filled with posts by classmates already involved with the relief effort. This was particularly impressive given that much of the city was still without power.

One of the posts in the group was about CAAAV, a grass-roots organization based in Chinatown that serves the local Asian community. They were accepting donations and asking volunteers to come to the neighborhood and knock on doors in the public housing units. Many elderly and disabled community members lived in those buildings, and now, five days after the storm, it was likely they had run out of provisions.

On Friday morning, I went to CAAAV headquarters, where there was a (very) brief orientation for new volunteers. Then, a group of us walked to a cluster of housing units along the water, and went inside to deliver supplies. There was no power in the buildings, and it was impossible to see without a flashlight. Though it was 11 a.m., the hallways and stairwells were completely black. For the elderly, walking around in those conditions would have been impossible. We went to apartments throughout the building, knocking on doors to deliver food and assessing situations to then report back to CAAAV. At this point there was still no running water, which meant there was a tremendous demand for this most basic need.

A block away from one of the housing units, FEMA had set up a supply station with food and water. Having worked on the edge of Chinatown prior to SIPA, it was disorienting to see the military's presence in the community. It was also disorienting to see what is usually a bustling, crowded neighborhood in silence. The swift disaster response from the federal government has unquestionably saved lives. But after working with CAAAV, it became clear it is pivotal to have organizations familiar with community dynamics also assisting in recovery. For those living on the 15th, 16th, and 17th floors of the public housing units, getting to FEMA posed an insurmountable challenge. CAAAV met this need.

Daniel A. Medina MIA ’13, MS ’12 (Journalism)

Lead Editor, Journal of International Affairs

As you walk towards the Jacob Riis houses in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, you first realize what a mammoth complex it is. The endless rows of windows spread across 19 buildings, all identical in shape and size, into a strange maze. On Saturday morning [November 3] — days after the storm — all that was visible on the windowsills were candles. Hurricane Sandy brought down trees, toppled the park where children played on Saturday afternoons and, of course, left residents — specifically the elderly — with no place to go and no where to look for help.

I was here with Occupy Sandy, a group comprised of Occupy Wall Street members and regular volunteers alike, passing out military-style Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), flashlights, baby formula and anything else residents had been lacking. Everyone had an opinion on FEMA and on Mayor Bloomberg, who they accused of picking and choosing where to send valuable resources first. As poor New Yorkers, nearly all Latino immigrants, they told me they were used to being shortchanged but found it unthinkable that there would be a separation of the classes even after such a tragic storm that left the city reeling. It appears not even Sandy could break the deep socioeconomic inequality divide in America’s great metropolis.

— collected by Neha Tara Mehta, posted November 5, 2012