04/05/2013 03:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2013

Sandy Projects Still Need Volunteers

It will be six months since hurricane Sandy ravaged the shores of the East Coast, six months since residents in hard hit areas of Staten Island, the Rockaways and parts of New Jersey have struggled to get their lives back on track. For some residents, relief has been slower than expected, primarily because hard hit areas that suffered under poverty prior to the storm are faced with additional obstacles to recovery. The saving grace of communities still reeling from Sandy are local community organizations that provide temporary shelter, supplies and social services. Yet, in areas where local community organizations are also struggling in the wake of Sandy, the work of New York Cares makes all the difference.

Since the late eighties, New York Cares has provided local community organizations the manpower it needs to identify and address the most pressing needs in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Following the storm, New York Cares began to provide disaster relief for communities heavily damaged alongside partner organizations with an outpouring of support across the tri-state area and beyond. Unfortunately, many Sandy projects are reduced in capacity despite a great need still prevalent in areas like the Rockaways.

To date, New York Cares estimates that it has organized 14,000 volunteers to serve in 970 Sandy relief projects across the five boroughs. Volunteers canvassed neighborhoods to check on seniors, provided clean drinking water, collected and distributed 123,080 coats, served hot meals, cleared debris and removed water damage from 350 homes in the Rockaways and South Brooklyn.

Apart from the physical help given by New York Cares volunteers, their presence provides psychological and emotional comfort. Dara Fulton, a recurring volunteer with New York Cares in the Rockaways, summarizes her experience with an anecdote:"one man came, got his food and left briefly. He then turned around and said 'I just want to say, God bless yall for everything you are doing for us out here."

In the long-term, New York Cares faces the quintessential challenge of providing aid that relieves short term pressure and empowering communities to become fully self-sufficient. Over the next 12 months, the organization plans a gradual phase out of distributing food and water to focus more on removing water damaged drywall and debris, a process known as muck out, and mold removal.

Volunteers muck out homes (Photos courtesy of New York Cares)

New York Cares could use volunteers and donations to stockpile distribution centers with quality food, bottled water and basic supplies city-wide. Distribution centers can serve up to 4,000 residents a day in some areas. Steve Streicher, Marketing and Communications Director at New York Cares, notes the recent dip in manpower but continued optimism. Streicher comments, "we have seen a bit of leveling off in volunteer support, but something really interesting is in March, student groups in lieu of their spring break came to New York to volunteer from all over the country."

Although Sandy projects are in demand, Streicher adds, "We're hoping to alleviate the urgent, visible, very glaring need from hurricane Sandy but we're also there to respond to the every day macro economic needs of unemployment rates, school testing scores and all of the long-term challenges communities are facing as well." Year-round projects coordinated by New York Cares that volunteers can get involved with include job readiness, tutoring and reading via local community centers, libraries and social service agencies.

To access year-round and hurricane Sandy specific projects, Streicher recommends a visit to the New York Cares website to choose the project that aligns with your interest and skills. Projects will last as long as donations of time and supplies can eliminate dire need. Streicher reasons that the focus is "on a full recovery, which is getting these communities back on their feet holistically, not just back in their homes." He adds, "We are committed to being here and will be here until the end."