Students and residents of New Paltz have been helping Superstorm Sandy victims through the weekly volunteer organization Sandy Sunday.
Co-coordinated by Rebecca Rotzler and Jen DeWitt, who both work at the Ulster County BOCES, the program provides the opportunity for students from SUNY New Paltz, the SUNY Ulster Nursing Department and residents of New Paltz to be transported to areas affected by the storm for an all-day volunteer event.
“The people in outside areas have no idea the scope of the destruction until they go in and see it,” DeWitt, a third-year accounting and finance major, said. “There are thousands of homes that have been gently lifted and shifted ever so slightly that they’re ruined. They’re still standing so you can’t tell that they’re ruined but they’re just destroyed. The media isn’t doing [a] good enough job covering the homes that were destroyed, but we know we have to help out.”
After volunteering in Midland Beach and other similarly affected areas in Staten Island for the past several weeks, Sandy Sunday has gained a greater following through outlets like Facebook and word of mouth.
One such volunteer, third-year digital media and theater tech major Tara Ludwin, heard about Sandy Sunday through Facebook, and said the experience, aside from the difficult manual labor, was “a lot of fun,” and something she plans on doing again.
“It was amazing to see the way the people interacted there,” Ludwin said. “Even families that had lost everything were lending helping hands to their neighbors. It was also just kind of hard to see everything that was destroyed. You really can’t help but feel incredibly sorry for these
Rotzler and DeWitt decided to begin Sandy Sunday as an independent organization to cut through red tape they would otherwise have to address. Rotzler said that most of the supplies used and cars rented to volunteer are being paid for out-of-pocket, with help from the New Paltz community.
When in the process of deciding which volunteers should participate in which manual labor projects, Rotzler said volunteers “go in based on who has health insurance” in case of any injuries.
One of the main challenges Sandy Sunday faces, Rotzler said, is simply getting the word out to students about this volunteer opportunity.
“It’s great that everyone is donating supplies but at a certain point, it’s overkill,” Rotzler said. “What they really need is for us to go down and help.”
After having gutted damaged homes and witnessed firsthand the destruction of these towns, DeWitt said she feels a sense of accomplishment from volunteering.
“You can sit there and process your feelings or you can actually get down to work,” she said. “You do a dirty, heavy-lifting task for an entire day, and then you realize you just took a huge burden off of the homeowner you helped. No money you could be paid could give you the satisfaction of lifting the burden off of someone like that.”
Sandy Sunday volunteers meet every week in the Route 32 parking lot at 7 a.m. and will be dropped off at 7 p.m. For more information, visit the Facebook page at Sandy Sunday New Paltz.