In the wake of the aftermath of one of the most devastating natural disasters to ever hit the east coast, the greater New York area has pulled together in a way I haven’t seen since the events of September 11th.
I live in the hardest hit borough of New York: Staten Island. With the estimated deaths making up more than half of the total death toll in New York, many of us could never have fathomed that this would happen to our home of Staten Island. I can easily drive 2 miles in any direction and be met with the wreckage of Sandy. Homes have been completely demolished. People’s homes were swept away with harsh winds and flooding waters. It was a devastating sight. I have to thank God every day that my home was virtually left untouched by Sandy’s wrath. We did lose power for a couple of days, but I couldn’t help thinking about those who still don’t have power till this day (8 days later), let alone a home.
With hundreds of thousands still left without power, heat or food, troves of people were lining up to volunteer. People were eager to give up a good portion of their day entirely to helping others with nothing but a ‘thank you’ in return. My old high school was turned into a shelter for displaced families. There were little kids playing with toys donated by fellow Staten Islanders, unaware that they don’t have a home to go back to. Parents looked helpless as they walked over to the tables overflowing with canned foods, toiletries, and dry foods. I wanted to help them knowing that if they were my parents I wouldn’t want anyone to look down on them in judgement. People at first were hesitant to take the food, but after much encouragement from the volunteers they happily took what they needed. I even looked around for bags or boxes they can stuff with anything they need.
The turn out was amazing. Car after car pulled up with clothes and food to donate. The general feeling across the island was that if you weren’t helping, then what were you doing?
This is why I love New York, and will always be a die-hard New Yorker. Whenever we are faced with adversity, we pull together and make it through anything that comes our way. I remember the vigils we held in my neighborhood in Brooklyn when we still lived there. We sat in the park that had a clear view of the city, and prayed for those that lost their lives in the attacks of 9/11. The black cloud that hung over the city for days was a clear reminder that the infamous NYC skyline was changed forever. There is something to be said about New Yorkers. We may have a thick skin, but we are sensitive when anyone tries to hurt our beloved city.
After seeing the combined efforts of private citizens and officials to help those in need has renewed my faith in the brotherhood here on Staten Island. But most importantly it has renewed my faith in humanity. It’s a beautiful thing to see teenagers willing to lend a helping hand on a Saturday. They could be hanging out with friends, sleeping in, or lounging around the house all day, but they chose to volunteer. I guess helping is the ‘cool’ thing to do.
The feeling in the air has shifted here on this forgotten island. We feel connected in a way because of the storm. The wreckage it has left behind has shown us that the only way we can get through this difficult time is together.
I’ll admit, there were times I had been a bit hesitant to tell people that I was from Staten Island. Albeit when I told them it would quickly be followed with “But I was born and raised in Brooklyn” as if that would count for something. I wasn’t ever going back to Brooklyn and honestly would never want to. I can leave my door unlocked at 2 in the morning and still sleep soundly here on the island. We could never have done that in Brooklyn.
Staten Island is my home and I have never been more proud to say that. There is a sense of unity spreading throughout the island. The people here on Staten Island have shown me that no matter what your race, color or creed is, we are family. And the one thing about family that always holds true is we may not always get along but we’ve always got each others’ backs.
Nice try Sandy, but we’re New Yorkers…it takes a lot more than that to break us.
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