The post-Sandy challenges aren't over by any means, even while a literal light at the end of the tunnel has appeared for more than a few with the reinstating of power in most of downtown Manhattan. A more metaphorical light is in the way a lot of New Yorkers have dealt with the natural disaster and its aftermath. Fortunately, it seems to be bringing out the best in a lot of us.
While large numbers of people in Staten Island, New Jersey, Queens, and other parts of the city are still without power, heat, and even homes, there is a bright spot in the many tales of New Yorkers doing good things post-Sandy—Facebook pages filled with offers of housing and help, tweets and retweets of information for would-be volunteers, donations to charity, people traveling to see and do what they can in more afflicted areas. It shouldn't be too surprising that New Yorkers would pull together, mostly, in times of trouble, but it's nice, nonetheless. Marathoners helped with relief efforts instead of running the race, but people who hadn't ever intended to run have helped, too—designing T-shirts with sales going to relief efforts; showing up to help clean up devastation in the Rockaways, Red Hook, Queens; donating coats and socks and books and food all over Brooklyn; holding and hosting trivia benefits for hurricane relief; promoting help for a shelter for LGBT kids that was destroyed by the storm; eating at restaurants (#dineoutnyc) and buying from establishments that need to make up losses sustained from the storm.
As Catherine Rampell writes in The New York Times: "Surfers with shovels fanned out in the Rockaways in Queens, helping residents clear their homes of mud and sand. An army of cyclists strapped packages of toilet paper to their backs and rode into Belle Harbor, Queens. Children broke open piggy banks, bought batteries and brought them to the parking lot of the Aqueduct Racetrack and Resorts World Casino, where a police inspector and his family set up a donation center for blankets, bottled water and other goods."
So many people had the impulse to help that city relief centers were thronged with volunteers and donations, and, in fact, some shelters had to turn volunteers and donations away. Mayor Bloomberg said on Sunday that "the city had been inundated with well-meaning people dropping off goods at relief centers, and suggested they give money instead," writes Rampell. Bloomberg suggested donating to the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York, money he said would be used to "help people get back on their feet." Meanwhile, Gary Bagley, New York Cares executive director, has more than 6,000 people signed up for assignments via the organization and told Rampell, "Our projects fill so fast that sometimes it seems there’s nothing to sign up for." (He says to donate money—and that the coat drive, an annual event from New York Cares, may be moved up to an earlier date this year to help supply those in need post-Sandy.)
Walmart, PepsiCo, the Red Cross, and a pizza company in Portland, Maine, have all helped. But in other informal efforts, "A hedge fund manager from the Upper West Side, Roy Niederhoffer, gathered a network of 40 friends through Facebook who helped load a U-Haul truck and several cars with canned corn, batteries, LED lights, over-the-counter medicines and other supplies," writes Rampell, who adds that "Staten Island seemed to swarm with people wanting to pitch in on Sunday"—so many again, that some volunteers and their donations were turned away.
Many marathoners who didn't run (and some ran anyway) helped out with recovery efforts instead, some wearing their marathon bibs or race T-shirts, write Juliet Macur and Steve Eder in the New York Times: "At the same time that more than 47,000 runners were supposed to start the marathon on Staten Island on Sunday morning, an army of would-be runners from all over the world streamed onto the Staten Island Ferry, carrying backpacks and rolling luggage stuffed to the seams with food, water, diapers, pet food and other goods. One dragged a 30-inch suitcase weighed down with at least 75 pounds of clothing, batteries and snacks."
And Occupy Wall Street, well prepared by their time at Zuccotti Park, has been one of the more effective organizers of volunteer efforts following the storm, prompting Katherine Goldstein to ask "Is Occupy Wall Street Outperforming the Red Cross in Hurricane Relief?" at Slate. "Unlike other shelters that had stopped collecting donations or were looking for volunteers with special skills such as medical training, Occupy Sandy was ready to take anyone willing to help," she writes. After a visit to the Rockaways, Rosie Gray writes at BuzzFeed, "Occupy Wall Street, of all things, has re-emerged as a vital presence in this grim scene."
Now, if only we could channel that energy and goodwill into the rest of the year, and maybe the next, even when the storm has been out of the news for weeks or months and this time largely forgotten by many. If Sandy's legacy is that New Yorkers are a little closer, a little kinder, a little more patient and caring and just kind of nice, well, wouldn't that be something? We can hope. If you haven't helped yet, there's still plenty of time.