Tour leaders Andrea and Chris traveled with band member Peter Naffah to New York City in November of 2012 to volunteer for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Effort. We helped with supply delivery and restocking as well as demolition of damaged homes: even four weeks after the hurricane made landfall there was still plenty of work to be done! Our generous host was Andrea’s dear friend Keith Fasciani, an accomplished clown and circus performer living in the Bronx. He graciously welcomed us into his home and joined us in our volunteer efforts, keeping us laughing until our sides hurt all along the way. People banding together to accomplish great things is what the band is all about! We had a phenomenal time in New York, and we made sure to enjoy many of the things that make New York famous, including the best pizza, great cannolis, and traveling subway performers.
We helped clean people’s houses. We stayed at Keith’s — the clown guy. We did everything. I would like to go again.– Peter Naffah, band member
We were on the ground for three days: on the first day we visited Staten Island, where we volunteered for Make the Road New York, an organization which builds the power of Latino and working class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education, and survival services. On the afternoon we volunteered, we helped build emergency supply bundles and then delivered them to families impacted by the hurricane. The destruction on Staten Island was devastating: we witnessed leaning foundations, mountains of destroyed materials still awaiting removal, and even a car suspended through the side of a house.
The next day we joined a community-organized crew based out of Greenpoint in Brooklyn, and we boarded buses bound for the Far Rockaways. This was one of the most severely impacted areas, and the gravity of the destruction was sobering. We helped strip drywall and bleach wall studs to guard against mold in the home of a woman in her 80s whose home was left standing under water. We sorted through boxes of wet Christmas ornaments and children’s art projects, and we mopped mud and grit from the floorboards of living rooms and kitchens. We passed police officers guarding the uninhabited blocks against looting, saw a boat washed up in the middle of the road, and skirted around the National Guard humvees parked outside the destroyed grocery store. It felt good to put on gloves and protective face masks and contribute to restoring the community. We were proud to be a part of “Team Awesome,” a motley crew of volunteers from all over the New York area.
On our third day of volunteering we dropped in to one of the service centers run by the people of Occupy Sandy. Using a beautiful large church in the heart of downtown Brooklyn as a base, the center worked as a gathering place for supplies, resources, and volunteers. We helped unpack a huge shipment from UPS, sorting the materials into categories including baby food, diapers, canned goods, clothing, toiletries, blankets, and other essential goods. It’s a good thing Chris has a sharp eye: he spied four cans of dog food mislabeled as soup for human consumption. We were able to move them over to the pet supplies area. Good save, Chris!
At the tour’s end, we felt humbled by the power of nature to wreak havoc with human plans. But we also felt uplifted by the tenacity of the human spirit: the compassion of our fellow volunteers, the courage of the families impacted by the disaster, and the humor of our host and dear friends sustained us and elevated our spirits. Buoyed by this faith in the power of people working together, Andrea and Peter updated the band groupies back at home with their traditional Australian-accent news report:
All in all, we returned to Denver with tired bodies but full hearts, inspired by the magnitude of what we’d witnessed. Most of all, we came away more certain than ever that all people must be included if our global community is to fully prosper. We all have moments of need, and we all have the ability to lend a hand.
It was such a pleasure following you on Facebook and seeing how you made a difference to so many people! Thanks for sharing with us and thank you so much for giving Peter this amazing experience!– Kathi Jensen, Peter’s mom