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The Impact of Service

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Marc Fiorito, Team Rubicon/Facebook
Marc Fiorito, Team Rubicon/Facebook

This past weekend, I had the privilege of volunteering with a couple of friends in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. This area was designated region A and the reasons were obvious days after. Brighton Beach had water levels as high as five feet, flooding just about every basement in the neighborhood. Many families lived in these basements, and now found themselves homeless. The streets were filled with their damaged belongings and valuables. Many just sat outside their homes trying to figure out what to do next. Clearly the water and food that we had to offer wasn't going to be enough. And yet when we offered it to them, there was such a sense of gratitude and appreciation on their part.

One particular woman was tirelessly cleaning her basement when we arrived at her place. As we told her who we were and the few items we could offer her, she read off a list of other families in the area who needed the goods much more than her. But she concluded by admitting that, "in a few days I may be in need of food and water." The innocence of her statement was incredible. She could've simply taken what we offered at that very moment and stored it for later but she passed it up because she was conscious of others who were in more dire need at that very moment. Her concern even in such trying circumstances was inspiring.

Sadly enough these New Yorkers who had their basements flooded and property damaged weren't even the worst hit. This highlights the severity of the storm. Hurricane Sandy was responsible for the death of 48 New Yorkers and over 100 individuals worldwide. For a lot of families, the possibility of a complete recovery is impossible. There's nothing that can be said or done to a mother who lost a child that will bring her any justice. That's the value of a life and this storm was responsible for providing such a devastating blow to many families.

One particular story that stuck with me is that of a mother who was driving in the midst of the storm with her two boys, ages two and four, when suddenly she hit a pothole and became stuck. She wasn't able to drive her way out of the hole and the swarms of water began to engulf the car. She managed to free herself and her boys from the car seats and made a run for a nearby tree for protection. She held on for the longest time but the 90 mph winds on top of the rain and fatigue forced her to loosen her grip on her children and she had to watch them get swept away by the water. It took 12 hours to find the perished bodies of her two children.The images on TV were almost surreal. It was impossible to comprehend everything going on literally a couple of minutes from where I was. And yet the scenes on TV couldn't truly reflect the damage done. Just a week ago, waiting in a gas line for three hours, having an added hour to an already hour and a half long commute, and getting stranded on the bus for hours all would've seemed like my worst nightmare. However, today as I along with millions of other New Yorkers have to experience this inconvenience, I do it with a sense of relief.

The opportunity to do service in Brighton Beach instilled in me a sense of appreciation. Being able to interact with individuals, see them eye to eye, talk to them face to face and hear their stories from their own mouths allowed it to all set in. It made it all real. I started to get a sense of what it means for a diabetic patient to lose his medication. I started to get a sense of what it means to have your basement flooded. I started to get a sense of what it means to lose your house. You simply can't change the channel on any of these problems.

There was plenty of warning for Hurricane Sandy. Yet it couldn't prevent billions of dollars in damages and the deaths of so many innocent lives. We can't reverse the series of events that have plagued our city but we can rise together to alleviate their disastrous effects. This might require us to give up our weeknights or weekends but it's a sacrifice worthwhile. We need to put in the work necessary to meet the bare necessities for those that were affected. It's really uplifting to see all the volunteer projects in place on a daily basis. And there will continue to be new efforts organized by different organizations. Please help out in whatever capacity you can.