Students Organize Hurricane Relief



After Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the tri-state area on Monday, Oct. 29, the Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) student body has mobilized in response. Chris Hennessy, FCLC ’15, and Jaime Rodriguez, FCLC ’14, decided to organize a series of relief programs to help those in need during the aftermath of the storm through student volunteering and a donation drive. By Saturday, Nov. 3, Hennessy and Rodriguez’s donation drive evolved into one of Manhattan’s major donation recipients for the Sandy relief effort.

Jaime Rodriguez, FCLC ’14 featured at the top left and Chris Hennessy, FCLC ’15 at the top right. Below are donations for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. (Courtesy of Maddie Campisano)

Hennessy and Rodriguez said they coordinated the response due to both personal and humanitarian reasons. After watching a news report covering the devastation of superstorm Sandy in her hometown of Long Branch, N.J., Hennessy said she knew something had to be done. After teaming up with Rodriguez and contacting Associate Professor Maureen O’Connell, who was interested in taking students into the community to volunteer, they started a donation drive for those in need in Manhattan.

The Friday morning after the storm, small groups of four or five students were mobilized and sent to volunteer throughout the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They created teams based on students’ skills, such as translating Mandarin to English and vice versa. These groups were sent out to their assigned locations with bags filled with goods collected from the donation drive.

As the situation developed Saturday night, the group’s work changed. “We’ve always been responding to live emergency situations,” Rodriguez said. “Because power was restored in Manhattan that night, we’ve had the great privilege of having students standby, for hours, looking for ways to help. There has never been a shortage of volunteers.”

Then, after donations to an evacuation center on West 49th Street and 9th Avenue were turned away, Hennessy made a call that rerouted all goods being sent to the evacuation center to FCLC.

“We essentially became a donation hub for the Upper West Side and the Hell’s Kitchen area. By the end of the weekend, we were inundated with donations,” Hennessy said.

“We were getting everything from coats, shoes, jackets, sweaters, toiletries, books, toys—you name it.”  Room 109 in McMahon Hall became a command center for Hennessy and Rodriguez’s effort. “We dug for the greatest, most immediate need and we mobilized students to go out and meet the need,” Hennessy said. “It was about people—not institutions like Fordham or shelters. It was about people looking for opportunities and pitching in to help; this is what kept us going.”

Soon, people from places like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Connecticut were calling Hennessy and Rodriguez asking for ways to help and what to donate. An injured military officer came down from Massachusetts with his family and a car loaded with supplies. Mike Zervos, FCLC ’14, a commuter from Brooklyn, woke up at 5 a.m. to line up for gas, didn’t get any, but didn’t give up. He said he got his grandma’s station wagon and dropped off goods, after which he asked what else he could do. “He was a rock star,” both Hennessy and Rodriguez agreed.

The two also came across technology that allowed them to expand their effort, such as social media and other websites that made bringing relief easier and more efficient. The Facebook group, “FCLC Hurricane Sandy Response,” currently has 660 members and is constantly being updated, along with their Twitter page, with material needs for specific areas of New York.

“Social media really helped us gain a strong support basis and a reliable network of volunteers who are always ready,” Rodriguez said. “We get a response we need every time—they haven’t failed us yet!”

FCLC’s Hurricane Sandy response effort has also reached out to members of the student body affected by the storm, one of them being Mike Macalintal, FCLC ’15, who lives in Moonachie, NJ.

“We’ve been in constant contact with Mike, who expressed his community’s need for school supplies and other necessities to bring the community back on its feet. However, we haven’t been able to get anything out to him yet due to transportation issues,” Hennessy said. “Our priority as FCLC students is to help out our own and build services that help our entire community. Whoever reaches out to us, we got them. There is people right here at Fordham that care for them.”

Both Hennessy and Rodriguez work at the Dorothy Day Center For Service and Justice (DDCSJ) as social justice leaders but did not consult DDCSJ prior to beginning their relief effort. “During the week of the storm, DDCSJ was closed, and we weren’t going to wait for permission or resources,” Rodriguez said.

Hennessy mentioned that Kathy Crawford, associate coordinator of Community Service and Service-Learning at FCLC, was providing support via cellphone from the beginning. “The moment Fordham reopened on Monday, we filled the DDCSJ office with everything that happened, and now they are a tremendous help. We are currently in the transitioning phase of bringing the relief effort operations into the hands of DDCSJ so that it becomes a long-standing project.”

Rodriguez said that both he and Hennessy learned a lot of community organizing skills from the Dorothy Day Center as social justice leaders, empowering them to lead students to help the people of New York devastated by the storm. Rodriguez believes that the work they’ve been doing has unexpectedly spread the messages of solidarity and selflessness, the foundational beliefs of DDCSJ.

“These messages have been translated to this volunteer effort. A team of students who went to the Rockaways were really moved by what they saw; they really got it,” Rodriguez said. “It’s also amazing that we were receiving messages from commuters stuck at home during the storm who wanted to help as soon as they got back to school.”

“We had a lot of fun. People shared their stories in the command center. We always had music playing. While this was a very serious crisis, we felt the need to keep people motivated and keep the momentum,” Hennessy said. “We had sorting and packing parties. We had a ‘phone bank,’ which was an area in which several people called our representatives to respond immediately to this disaster.”

There are still opportunities to help out the Sandy relief effort. “We want students to continue volunteering when they’re available. We need space to store donations and donations are still needed,” Rodriguez said. “Cash donations are very much needed at this moment compared to before!”

Nina Guidice, FCLC ’14, and assistant blog editor for The Observer, began a donation drive in her hometown of Suffern, N.Y. in Rockland County.

“My donation drive was pretty successful because I asked people directly and individually. Usually people will donate something if you ask them to, even if it’s just one thing,” Guidice said. “Even an old hoodie is useful and easy to donate. I’ve gotten clothes, bags of toiletries, blankets, food, baby diapers, batteries, that kind of thing.”

The goods she collected are going to a variety of distribution centers in N.J., Brooklyn, Long Island and Staten Island. “I wanted to make sure what I got went to places with the most need,” Guidice said.

Hennessy talked about the benefits of working in a small group. “People forget that we can solve each other’s problems. We don’t need a go-ahead from a higher up. It’s a beautiful position to be in to have the resources and therefore be able to say that we can help each other, and we don’t need much else,” Hennessy said. “As long as the crisis is there, we will be.”