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Picking Up The Pieces In The Wake Of Sandy

January 3, 2013 by admin

By Jess Fasano

     I stood there for a moment turning a child's stuffed animal over in my hands. It was a small, white dog, the fur matted from having been left to soak in the flood water that had seeped into the house and covered in the mud it landed in when it was hastily tossed, along with Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars, into the pile of other children's toys that were now destroyed.
     I tucked the stuffed animal and the rest of the toys into a garbage bag and dragged it over towards, the street. I then turned my attention to a plastic bin marked “church mementos.” Condensation was still visible on the sides of the bin that was filled with soggy documents and blurred photographs. It was determined that none of the contents could be saved, so this too I took over towards the street. Even through my work gloves I could feel the history behind everything I was helping discard.
     I never thought I would spend a Saturday morning putting another person's memories out on the curb to be thrown away, but that is exactly what I did this past weekend when I volunteered to help residents in Belmar, who were affected by Superstorm Sandy.
     Being fortunate enough to have made it through the storm mostly unscathed, I went with a friend to help those who weren't as lucky. After spending some time sorting clothes for a local good will, we found ourselves at a family's home who lived close to the beach.
     The house was in pretty bad shape, the wooden floors buckled and starting to rot, the walls and ceilings covered in mold. As I gingerly made my way further inside, the smell of the house hit me like I had just opened the door to a washer that had wet clothes sitting in it for far too long.
     Some volunteers were already there removing rotted wood from the basement, clearing furniture out of rooms so  
 that the flooring could be ripped up, and tearing the ruined carpet off of the stairs. Gloved hands and masked faces were moving about systematically like a well-oiled machine.
     A good portion of the family's possessions were out on the front porch and strewn across the front lawn. It looked as if the whole house was being gutted, and I couldn't help but think of how devastated I would be if it were my home and how hard this must be on the family who lives here.
     My friend and I got right to work along with the others, helping clear more furniture and taking out some of the flooring. A bunch of us eventually started moving the items on the front lawn over to the curb so that they could be picked up and disposed of. While working we met two other college students from Manasquan, NJ, who were home for Thanksgiving and had come for the same reasons we had.
     The whole experience gave me a different perspective on what it means to be part of a community. It means doing whatever you can to help someone in need, even if it starts with one Saturday morning. It means working with others on a task and bonding over a shared sense of responsibility without ever even shaking hands. It means complete strangers coming together to help a fellow community member begin to rebuild.
     It also made me rethink everything that I have been taking for granted. When things are going well, I constantly forget how fortunate I am. Sometimes it is only after bearing witness to the devastation caused by a terrible event, such as Sandy, that I am shaken back to reality and realize how much truth is in the saying, “you don't know what you have until it's gone.”
     If you would like to volunteer or make a donation to help those in need you can visit occupysandy.org or jerseycares.org for more information.

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