by Hannah Viau
Participant, Urban Mitzvah Corps 2013
The impact of Hurricane Sandy has always just been something on the news for me. Living in Pennsylvania, there wasn’t much to clean up except for a few blown-over umbrellas and chairs. The way life was before the storm was pretty much the same as it was after, for me. I saw the damage on television, and I heard about it from my friends that live in New Jersey, but I never saw it for myself. I have seen the damage Hurricane Katrina left behind in New Orleans when I participated on a relief project in Louisiana, and this summer I was ready to witness the devastation from Superstorm Sandy.
When I registered for Urban Mitzvah Corps for the summer, I knew one thing for sure: that I would be doing one day of Sandy relief for the community. Everything else was a bit on the broad side, but I was really excited to help out those who were affected by the storm. The first week went by, and that Sunday we were off to Union Beach for our relief project. We boarded our vans and set off, bound for the home of a couple that had been badly damaged. Our job, as a UMC community, was to scrape off the old chipped paint from the walls, sand them down, and eventually paint the walls a new color. We scraped and sanded for hours and the generous couple ordered pizza for us. We sanded after lunch, but since we didn’t get to finish the whole job, we decided collectively to return the following week. We wanted to come back because we thought that we couldn’t leave the job unfinished, and the couple was extremely grateful for our presence. We looked at the walls and saw the emptiness, and we wanted to fill it.
The following Sunday we ventured off to the same home to continue what we had started the week before. The emptiness was somewhat filled when we arrived. The couple had worked on one wall, which still left three walls for us to finish. I thought it was interesting that they worked on the wall because we started the job and were planning on finishing it; they clearly wanted to assist us in helping them, which made the work seem even more worthwhile to know we had supportive partners in the process. The day was full of painting and Chinese food, again provided by the couple that lives in the house. By the time we left, the walls were painted, the couple said goodbye to us with happy hearts, and we left feeling fulfilled. I felt proud to be helping out people who desperately needed it after the storm because I know I have the ability to seek the help from others if I truly needed it.
UMC is all about helping those who cannot help themselves, and helping leave communities happier than we found them. We are here to do tikkun olam, repair the world. Going back to the site a second time made me feel even better because we didn’t just go for one day, we went for two. Two days may not seem like much, but for that couple, it was a lifetime. We were helping to make the world a better place, one home at a time.
UMC has helped me see the damage Superstorm Sandy left on New Jersey. Pennsylvania will always be the state I live in, and, thankfully, a place where Hurricane Sandy didn’t hit very hard, but I will always know that just around the corner in New Jersey, there are people who lived through damages beyond imagination, and need my help. There is no better feeling in the world than seeing people smile, and hearing people thank me because of the help I provided for them. Sandy Relief is not just news for me anymore; I witnessed it, I helped with the process, and I plan to continue my involvement.