Monday, November 5, 2012

When Cash Just Doesn't Cut It...

This morning we woke up in a home.
This morning we woke up in a home that was warm.
This morning we woke up in a home that was warm that had running water to bathe.
This morning we woke up in a home that was warm that had running water to bathe and food to eat.
This morning we woke up in a home that was warm that had running water to bathe and food to eat and coats and hats to put on to brave the frigid temperatures.
This morning...we were grateful.
Since "Hurricane Sandy," I have felt helpless.  I gave money to the Red Cross - twice - something that is so easy to do.  But I wanted to do more.  Sometimes, cash doesn't feel like enough.  And when you see people on the news that are begging for diapers or blankets or clean socks - it feels like they can't wait for your cash to arrive to an organization who then has to put things together in what I'm sure is a system that they have, blah blah blah.... but that doesn't help when people need things, like, yesterday.

Last year, after my Dad passed away, I decided that one way I would honor him is to serve others.  My Dad was extremely generous with people - with his time, his money, his things, his advice, his creativity, I could go on and on.  He instilled in me a love of volunteering and giving back and we would often volunteer for special projects together.  I cherished those times with him - and will always cherish those memories.  You don't have to have a lot of money - or any - to help others.  You can donate your time. You can help your church pack or organize donated items.  You can even start a collection in your own neighborhood.  This year - the Hurricane gave me the perfect project.  I wish, obviously, it had never happened - but I'm so happy that I can do some things to help, however small they may be.

Last night, before I arrived home from New Hampshire, I stopped at the store.  I bought toilet paper, paper towels, maxi pads, mens socks, kids socks, toothbrushes for adults and children, mouthwash, plastic cups, styrofoam cups, soap, shampoo, batteries and jumbo boxes of diapers.  Later that evening, I collected from my home five wool winter coats from our cedar closet.  All of them were mine.  Why do I have five winter coats??  I also had fleece footy pajamas for kids, sneakers, books, puzzles and new games.
My neighbor, Erin, was collecting the items for a friend of hers from New York.  They had intended to fit as much as they could in their SUV - but it soon turned into a huge truck that had been donated to drive to a church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  I feel so grateful knowing that the items I am donating are going somewhere where they are badly needed, like, yesterday.  Not tomorrow.  The need for things - especially coats and hats and blankets before the impending storm - is urgent.

If you, like me, feel that cash just doesn't cut it and want to do more - just be smart about it.  Ask your local Red Cross or your local church if they know of a collection site for donated items.  I have collected several different places and people and shelters and ways that you can help from friends who have been sharing this information with me.  I'm happy to share it all with you here.  If the thought of purchasing items seems overwhelming to you, I have a thought.  If you have twenty bucks to spare - and know of a church near you that is collecting - head to the dollar store!  You can buy twenty things! It will make you feel like a million bucks - I promise.

Here are some ways to help New York and New Jersey that I know of.  My sister's niece, Kirsten, lives in New York and has personally verified all of those.

Councilman James Sanders of Queens has provided an address for people who'd like to purchase anything on Amazon or (or anywhere, quite frankly!).  His office was demolished so he is operating out of the "Rockaway Revival Center" in New York.
Send to: Councilman James Sanders, Jr., c/o Rockaway Revival Center, 1526 Central Avenue, Far Rockaway NY 11691,
718 471 7014

There was also an Amazon "wish list" set up to go to a church in Brooklyn that has desperate and immediate needs.  You can find that wish list here.

The "Family to Family" initiative matches you up with a family in need.  They create a list of their greatest needs - and you do what you can to check things off for them.

The "Community Food Bank of New Jersey" is looking for donations of food, diapers, time and more. If you are local, you can bring donated items to their location or you can ship items to the address listed on the site.

If you know of other organizations that need help in New York or New Jersey - please share them in the comments here on the blog.  As you know, we are especially attached to our beloved Jersey Shore.  I grew up vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey and it's Gavin's favorite place to be.  We are expecting, if you can believe this, a Nor'Easter this week.  Mother Nature's way of adding insult to injury.  Imagine if your home was washed away and you have nothing.  Then imagine if you have children with you and they are cold.  Put yourself in their shoes (if they even have shoes!) and it will put things into perspective.  People need help now.

Kirsten volunteered in a shelter just this past week and wrote a brilliant post on FaceBook about her experience.  She gives a lot of great tips and brings up things that you wouldn't necessarily think of.  I'm sharing it with all of you with her permission...
Still processing yesterday. The Rockaways look like New Orleans after Katrina. The neighborhood we were in is still waiting for help from the Red Cross, and things are getting pretty desperate. There's looting after dark. Our makeshift distribution center was staffed by people from the neighborhood - they had nothing but were handing out donations to other people all day. New Yorkers are so generous that we almost had too many donations (you should have seen the stack of diapers). I am humbled and inspired.

If you're planning to volunteer or donate, I have some thoughts, based on my experience yesterday and in NOLA. Just one girl's opinion, take with grain of salt, etc etc.

- If you're dropping donations off at a distribution center, show up earlier in the day rather than after 4pm when volunteers are trying to wind things down. We had to turn people with donations away as the day got late because we needed to close up before dark.

- As far as I know, every distribution center is asking people not to donate any more clothes. I saw this yesterday - WAY too many clothes. Donate something else (like blankets and pillows).

- I learned a lot about what people actually need yesterday. Top items that we never had enough of: batteries, flashlights, feminine products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, paper towels, toilet paper, bleach. A lot of this is disposable - people will constantly be needing replenishment. In terms of food, only stuff that can be eaten without cooking - i.e. not cans of soup, pasta, dried beans. Think more like crackers, tuna, granola. Also, I sniggered when I saw that someone donated almond milk. But people were actually asking for it b/c it's not perishable and their kids wanted milk, so I learned something. ALSO - sugar-free stuff that's appropriate for diabetics (label the box as specifically for diabetics, though, to help volunteers). Use your head - don't donate things that people can't use if they have no power (like dryer sheets - saw this yesterday) or stuff YOU wouldn't want (like weird JetBlue meals).

- If you're volunteering, try to sign up for something or go to a site that is specifically asking for volunteers rather than just showing up. You'll be the most helpful if you have a defined job - and too many volunteers can be more difficult to manage than too few volunteers. The disaster situation is always changing, so sites that needed help yesterday might not today - check before you go.

- People will still need help a month from now, so don't forget about them! However, their needs will change (for example, soup will be great once the power's back on), so do some research about the best ways to help.

- Adding one more slightly delicate thing: People who have lived through a disaster aren't necessarily going to greet you with smiles and thank-yous when you go to volunteer. They're struggling to cope with an enormous amount of need/emotion/exhaustion. Stay flexible and don't have expectations about how people "should" act.

On a completely different note, I have something special to share.  Something that was hard for me to do - and, at the same time, very easy.  I have a lovely woman named Cindy that cleans our house and spares my arthritic body from the torture.  A few months ago, she told me she was pregnant!  I loaded up her car with gear and toys and neutral clothes and more.  This weekend she texted me an ultrasound photo and announced that she was carrying a little girl.  I knew what I wanted to do.  When she arrived today, I presented her with Darcy Claire's bedding set.  I had been holding onto that all this time.  It was something I wasn't sure I wanted to part with.  But I did it.  And I know it was not only appreciated...
...but it will be used with such love for her daughter - her first child.

I feel you with me this week, Dad.  I love you so much.

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