USC Rallies to Help Hurricane Sandy Victims
Over a ton of supplies donated by USC faculty, staff, and families delivered to Hurricane Sandy victims thanks to the generosity of community members and local businesses.
A colleague of my father’s, a gentleman named Kevin, was on the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight that, after an engine emergency, landed in the Hudson River. Kevin was in the back of the plane, and as he waded through shin-deep water to the emergency exits he saw numerous examples of the inherent goodness in people: passengers steadied each other on the wet, slick airplane wings, buckled the elderly and children into the first available life jackets, and instinctively leapt into the icy waters after those who slipped off of the wings and fell in. “In this moment of crisis,” Kevin told my father, “it became clear to me that people are, by nature, inherently good.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, I too I have had the privilege of witnessing humanity at our best.
My boyfriend Jeremy Horton, a sergeant and flight engineer in the National Guard, learned early last week he would be deploying to the hurricane affected areas in New Jersey to work with the military volunteer organization Team Rubicon. He suggested we try to pull together a few donations of food and clothing to fill his empty car; he would drop off the supplies at an AERObridge donation center along the way to be distributed to people in need.
“I know it’s last minute,” he said last Sunday night, “but maybe you could ask for donations at school?”
I teach English at the Upper St. Clair High School, and last Monday morning, Dr. Michael Ghilani, the school's principal, approved my request to ask for donations. Early Monday afternoon I sent an email out to the district faculty explaining we would load Jeremy’s car at the end of Tuesday’s in-service day with whatever we could pull together. We had 24 hours.
What we “pulled together” was overwhelming.
By 8 a.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6, it was near impossible to walk through the high school’s main office as it was teeming with bags of clothing, boxes of food, piles of winter jackets, comforters, and wool blankets, a laundry basket full of all sizes of shoes. All day donations poured in; several teachers from Baker Elementary organized a lunch-time drop off for their school’s supplies, students—off school for the day, and often with the help of parents for transportation—came with bags and boxes.
The women working in the high school office worked hard organizing supplies. Over lunch, the four carloads we brought home filled my living and dining rooms, and several more trips awaited us at school. We looked at Jeremy’s Subaru, and back at the pile. It wasn’t going to happen.
After one of the big-name hauling companies in the area turned down our request to borrow a trailer, frustrated, I typed in “trailer rental” into my phone and clicked on the first number: Storage in Motion, LLC in Houston, PA. The gentleman who answered was owner Craig Tumas, and when I told him our story and that we were looking for a trailer to take the supplies east, he responded without hesitation: “What kind of hitch? I’ve got to have something here that will work. Come by after school and I’ll get you hooked up.” I asked Mr. Tumas whether he’d prefer a deposit or to hold my credit card while we had the trailer. He said with a chuckle, “You planning on stealing it? No? Then I don’t need either—we’ve got nothing to worry about.” I was blown away not only by his generosity, but also by the absolute trust he had in two people he had never met.
Three more carloads from school and a trip from Storage in Motion later, we had over 70 bags of clothing, 40 bags of food and toiletries, and 400 pounds of dog food—literally, a TON of supplies—loaded into our donated 6x12 foot trailer … which was now too heavy for either of our vehicles to pull.
A call to Rafael Valez, owner of Horizon View Farms in Rockwood, PA, solved the problem; Mr. Valez graciously donated the use of a truck to safely pull the trailer—and our supplies—to the people who needed them most. When Jeremy picked up the truck, Mr. Valez handed him a credit card and said, “Keep this for an emergency, and if you find yourself without a place to sleep, please get a room on me.”
New Jersey was dark and cold and the snow fell heavy on already-sagging trees and power lines as Jeremy drove the borrowed truck and trailer across the state last Wednesday. A transformer exploded and lit up the sky with eerie green light as he drove the darkened streets. Looking for fuel, he stopped at two gas stations without success; one had no power, one had no gas. What should have been a six-hour trip turned into eight and a half.
Jeremy arrived at the AERObridge donation center, a fire station, late Wednesday night in three inches of snow. Despite the late hour and dismal weather, volunteers met him at the trailer and helped him unload. The station was warm and brightly lit and welcomed people in need to help themselves to the supplies set out in neat, organized piles. A woman whose own home had been destroyed by floodwaters offered Jeremy food, drink, and a warm place to spend the night.
The generosity and kindness offered to Jeremy and Team Rubicon by both the people most affected by the storm and by other volunteers who traveled from across the country was awe-inspiring. A woman from the state of Washington fed their team a warm meal mid-day Thursday as they worked to clear debris from a neighborhood ravaged by Sandy’s high winds. On Saturday, Jeremy worked alongside members of the Mexican Red Cross in an area made uninhabitable by floodwaters. Every day, families still without electricity themselves showed up to help others in need. Despite the utter devastation and enormous task at hand, people came, people stayed, and people helped. And attitudes, astonishingly, were hopeful.
As Kevin, my father’s colleague said after his experience on Captain Sully’s miracle flight, we often see the best in people during the most difficult times, and I certainly was privileged to get a glimpse of this goodness during the past week. Big thank you’s need to go out to: the faculty, staff, and families of USC for your generosity and desire to help, those who donated to the cause from afar, Craig Tumas, for his unwavering trust in two people he had never met, Rafael Valez and the staff of Horizon View Farms for their flexibility and support, and the volunteers who worked alongside Jeremy this past week, and for those who will continue working in the wake of this disaster. I am proud to be a part of a community who, in times of need, rises up and comes together.
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