Even after traveling the world, the Jersey Shore remains one of my favorite places. As a child, I spent summers discovering seashells on the beach and walking along the surf with my mother. But today, I surveyed the damage of that same shoreline, helping friends pick up debris and trying to understand the magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.
In New Jersey and New York City, we got hit hard. We're rattled. Many people lost everything. It's getting cold, and power is still out throughout the region. Businesses are dredging out of the flood, trying to figure out how to start up again, and people are trying to figure out how to recover. The questions that everyone is asking are, "Are you OK?” “What do you need?" "Do you have gas?" “Do you have power?”
As mass transit is making the slow lurch back to normal, we are living in a region of contrasts. Some are trying to get back to work, while others are waiting for basic resources. It seems like the hurricane hit block by block, and each person who experienced it will tell you a different story.
The disaster isn’t over, and in the coming weeks, there is going to be an increased demand for volunteers and basic supplies. While organizations are doing a great job on the ground, there will be ongoing challenges, and there are still many people who desperately need assistance.
So, as you’re going out to help, and especially if you’re dealing with the storm’s aftermath yourself, there are some important things to keep in mind. (And if you’re looking for a place to lend a hand—or money—see the list below of organizations doing great work.)
Volunteer Your Time, Now and Later
There will be a surge of volunteers in the next few weeks, which is awesome. New Yorkers and New Jerseyans have come together as a community to clean up and rebuild, and people from around the world are sending in their support.
But soon, when we get back to our daily routines, those communities impacted by the storm are still going to need assistance, and we can’t forget about them. A month from now, and even six months from now, people will still need our help. Mark your calendar to donate or volunteer three months, six months, and even a year from now. The key to recovery is to have sustainable volunteers and activists.
Donate Resources That Are Requested and Needed
In the aftermath of the storm, there is a need for almost everything—financial donations, diapers, winter coats, canned food, pet food, and hygiene products. That said, when you donate items, it’s important to research and listen to what is needed. Just donating any old thing often creates more work for volunteers, and may even eventually go to waste. Also make sure your donations are in good or gently used condition, so that people can get the most use and efficiency out of them.
Stay Calm, Patient, and Positive
One thing I have been careful of is not taking in too much news. The media has been reporting on both the devastation and the heroics of those in the storm—and while it’s important to stay connected to current information, I try to stay informed without having news fatigue. It can be overwhelming and depressing on my already taxed emotions.
Make sure as you give your time and energy to others, you also enable yourself to keep a positive attitude. When I’m feeling down, I have found that a good solution is to look around me. Most people I met have been in amazingly good spirits, some even displaying incredible acts of kindness, even those who have suffered tremendous hardship.
Celebrate What’s Really Important
While cleaning up, a neighbor looked at his soaked household goods on the curb and said, "All of these are things. My family is OK, and that's the only thing that matters."
It’s times like these—as challenging as they are—that humble us, and make us realize what is really important. All this time without power has made families reconnect and neighbors and strangers actually talk to each other. It's incredible to witness a resurgence of community and friendship, where we've stopped looking at our phones and screens and really started to look at the world around us.
And I think this is important to keep in mind not just now, but months and years from now, when the storm passes. Whether you’re in New York or New Jersey or have been watching the hurricane from afar, we have all been through this natural disaster together, and it’s a good reminder to show empathy and compassion to everyone around us.
Ways to Get Involved
Are you looking for a way to help? The Red Cross and FEMA are doing great work, but there are many more organizations you can get involved with, especially if you’re local. Here are just a few ways you can donate your time, skills, or money:
Team Rubicon unites military veterans and medical professionals to rapidly deploy emergency response teams into crisis situations. The organization is looking for not only monetary donations, but also for military, health professionals, engineers, communications professionals, and more to donate their skills.
Occupy Sandy is a coordinated relief effort by InterOccupy (a collaboration of organizations including Occupy Wall Street) that is helping distribute resources, implement aid, and establish hubs for neighborhood resource distribution.
This is a movement to help out NY restaurants—the lifeblood of our NYC neighborhoods. It’s simple—you eat downtown, double the tip on the bill, and post a photo. (If you know a restaurant that needs help, email
The New York City Food Truck Association worked with JetBlue to deliver over 20,000 meals to residents in NY and NJ without power, and it’s looking for donations to keep up these efforts in the most severely affected areas of Staten Island, Queens, and Brooklyn.
Have a little extra space (and power)? Give warmth and shelter to a family in need after the storm.
These great prints remind us how loving New York is timeless. All proceeds from the $35 prints go to hurricane relief.
For even more options, browse this list of other unique Jersey-based volunteer organizations.
Photo courtesy of David Berkowitz.
Natalie Jesionka has researched and reported on human rights issues around the world. She lectures on human trafficking, gender and conflict, and human rights at Rutgers University. When she is not teaching, she is traveling and offering tips on how students and professionals can get the most out of their experiences abroad. She also encourages global exploration through her work as Editor of Shatter the Looking Glass, an ethical travel magazine. Natalie is a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow and served as a 2010 Fulbright Scholar in Thailand.More from this Author