Editor’s note: Emmilie Buchanan recently accompanied a group of students from Brigham Young University-Idaho to New York City to seek internship opportunities. What follows is a first-person account of a Mormon Helping Hands team member on the front lines of the devastation left from Hurricane Sandy.
I walked down one of the main roads of a small community outside Queens, N.Y., on Nov. 11. Rockaway Beach, one of the areas hit worst by Hurricane Sandy, looked like a war zone.
We moved quietly, me and the other nine Brigham Young University-Idaho students who had come to the Big Apple looking for internships.
Reminders of the storm that had hit two weeks prior were everywhere — emergency service vehicles from the Red Cross and National Guard, fancy sports cars with broken windows and the tired faces of the residents, many of whom had been forced to throw away every possession they owned.
Those faces, lined with worry and stress, softened as we approached. The residents of Rockaway Beach recognized the yellow vests that read MORMON HELPING HANDS.
Though they didn’t know our names, where we were from or what had brought us to their weathered peninsula, they knew we were there to help.
I first met a man named Eddie.
“I need help,” he said as we passed by.
He led five of us down to his musty, damp basement. The walls were soaked. Eddie explained when the storm hit, the water filled his entire basement and four feet on the main level.
Our task was simple: tear down all the walls and ceiling. With a hammer and a shovel, we cleared out what was left of the man’s basement. It was somber work. All the while I thought only of what memories had been made there.
The walls, some painted light pink, were the consistency of a soggy graham cracker. They pulled away from the cement easily. Piece by piece I pulled away a part of this man’s home.
After some brief small talk, Eddie asked us where we were from.
“We are students from Idaho,” I said.
His eyes became wide.
“You came all the way from Idaho to help me?” he asked.
I wanted to cry. Yes, Eddie. Yes we did.
A warm feeling that can only come from doing something selfless flooded though my heart. I was proud to be an American, grateful to have met Eddie and happy to be standing in mud and mold in a dingy basement.
For several hours we continued tearing out sheet rock, and pulling down ceiling. Shovel full after shovel full of rubble was placed into a magenta tub. Eddie then took the remnants of his basement to the curb with the rest of the garbage from the storm.
While I was tearing down a wall near the back door, I noticed a die-cut of a stork hanging on a pink string. The paper-bird was soggy, dirty and discolored.
It broke my heart to see yet another reminder of the lives that were affected by Sandy’s wrath. Yet strangely, as I have come to reflect on that image, it reminded me that life is precious. People are resilient and adversity can bring out the best in people.
Eddie couldn’t express his gratitude enough.
I don’t plan on seeing that man again. But when I think of New York, my thoughts turn to a small community outside of Queens where I know I can find a man named Eddie—a dear friend.