I have shown this cover before, last spring when there was that terrible outbreak of tornadoes and violent storms. At the time I wrote about how helpful the Red Cross was in 2004 when my mother-in-law’s home was flooded. I’ll repeat my message: The Red Cross was on the ground providing food and support within hours of our emergency I’ll never forget how helpful they were.
For most of us, donating money to the Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies is the best way to help. But for people living near the damaged areas but who were not affected themselves, there are other options.
In 2004 when our town was flooded, only about one half of the town was under water, and the great majority of the homes in my county were not at all affected. Most of the people living in the damaged area had families or friends who took them in. Most people outside the flooded area still had electricity. And while my own house was safe and sound, it quickly became obvious that for the next few weeks, my life and that of my husband and his brother were to be completely altered while we dealt with the cleaning and securing of my 82 year old MIL’s house.
The morning after the flood we drove the mile to her house, and cautiously opened the door. Water had reached about four feet inside, and it was pretty obvious that most of her possessions were ruined. As I’ve said, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army were the first to arrive, letting us know they would be there for us in the coming days. Before long county officials and FEMA appeared with their lists of how to determine what could be saved and what had to be thrown away, and how to remain safe and on and on. Then our friends and family members started appearing, ready to get dirty along side of us. These things were a tremendous help, but honestly, were expected.
What we did not expect were the many small acts of kindness by people we did not even know. We were working away the first day of cleaning up, not knowing how we were going to eat because none of us had time to even think about it. A car pulled up and two little girls got out and timidly knocked on the door. Their mother had prepared a huge pot of chicken stew – a favorite from her region of Mexico – and was offering us some for our lunch. Later in the day two women came through passing out freshly baked cookies and cups of coffee.
These acts continued through the week. People came by with rubber boots and trash bags, rubber gloves and cleaning supplies. One of the local churches organized a nightly supper, involving any group in the area who wished to help, taking nights to plan and serve the meal. A local construction company stopped work on their projects so their trucks and workers could handle the massive amounts of garbage that were generated by the storm. And in the next few months, a group of men from a church with which we had no affiliation worked with my husband to rebuild the house.
The one photo from the aftermath of Sandy that has most moved me is one where someone in NYC who retained electric power ran extension cords to the front of the building, inviting anyone who did not have power to use them for powering their phones and devices. Such a simple gesture, but one that says volumes about the people sharing. And one, I can promise you, that the people who used that power will never forget.
Photographer: Louise Dahl-Wolfe
Model: Not credited
Copyright: Hearst Corporation