By KATIE MEYER
ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
When Superstorm Sandy hit the east coast in late October, there was an almost immediate response from the Fordham University community. One of the most active groups from the start was Campus Ministry, whose “Sandy Saturdays” program is currently making a huge impact on communities that were devastated by the storm.
“Sandy Saturdays” are a part of a larger campaign called Sandy Solidarity which is geared toward using Fordham’s collective talents to help people in need. The different phases of the program began during and immediately after the storm. These phases involved checking in with people in the harder-hit areas, gathering for prayer and collecting supplies to donate to those in need. Sandy Saturdays are the third and most labor-intensive stage.
For the past eight weeks, in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity and Operation Blessing, students have been spending time in Breezy Point and Far Rockaway from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays. They work on clearing built-up debris and gutting ruined homes. To date, over 100 students have participated in Sandy Saturdays, and many others have been involved in other parts of the relief effort.
According to Conor O’Kane, associate director of Campus Ministry and Director of Interfaith Ministries, the situation at Breezy Point and Far Rockaway is very hard to prepare for.
“You don’t really have a sense of the destruction until you see it firsthand,” O’Kane, who has been very involved with the relief effort, said.
The volunteers may have also been ill-prepared for the emotional aspect of the project. They work side-by-side with storm victims, some of whom have literally lost everything. Giving them shelter, O’Kane explains, is actually only part of the job. Equally important is providing them with support in an incredibly difficult time.
“It’s an emotional space, and also a very privileged space,” O’Kane said. “A natural disaster can strip people of their dignity, and an important part of what we’re doing is affirming it.”
When they are not doing physical labor, volunteers spend time with the victims. Often, this time involves talking to them and listening to their stories, but sometimes merely sitting with someone is support enough. The work is physically and emotionally exhausting, but it does pay off in the end.
“There have been powerful encounters with people,” O’Kane said. “They are very grateful. People have made us lunch, invited us back for barbecues…there is an incredible spirit of community.”
Now, over two months after the storm, other organizations that have been involved in the relief effort are beginning to leave the affected areas. The Fordham team, however, believes that it is very important to continue its commitment to helping the victims. Even after the houses are rebuilt, Fordham’s responsibility extends to getting people back on their feet to a point where they feel that they can move on with their lives.
Campus Ministry is looking for more volunteers in the coming weeks, particularly faculty and staff members who are willing to chaperone the Saturday trips. It is currently planning to partner with other departments on campus to sponsor specific Saturdays. For more information, or to sign up for Sandy Saturdays, visit fordham.edu/sandyrelief.