It would have been easy for Marc Horowitz to simply focus on his own family after Hurricane Sandy pummeled his otherwise quiet hamlet of Clifton, N.J. But like many who made it through the storm with minimal damage but saw the tragic news reports about those affected, he couldn’t stay at home.
Since his power never went out, he reached out to his former co-worker Tanja, a married mother of three, who lives a few minutes away and was without power. He offered to let her store her perishable foods in his refrigerator because, as for residents of hundreds of towns in New Jersey, her lights hadn’t come back on yet, even after four days.
“You gotta help where you can,” said Horowitz, 42, a social worker. And he’s not the only one offering a neighborly hand in this time of need. Horowitz says he’s been witnessing random acts of kindness since the onslaught of the storm. “I believe in the kindness of others again,” he posted on Facebook on Friday.
While millions across the Northeast are left without power and shelter and many are coping with the loss of their loved ones in the storm, one of the signs of hope is that people are opening their hearts to make a natural disaster a little more bearable, in both large and small ways.
Horowitz says he’s seen things like neighbors hanging power strips on their fences for people to charge their mobile devices and allowing the elderly to fill up their gas tanks first. People have even been honoring the right-of-way in traffic — for regular commuters in the tri-state area, a small miracle. It’s been said that tragedy can bring out the best in people — and the immediate proximity of Hurricane Sandy has New Yorkers reaching out to help those left in the dark.
Dr. Dave Ores, a general practitioner in Manhattan’s East Village, offered free medical care through much of the day Friday, which announced via Tumblr and Twitter. And banks and businesses that have power are letting residents come in to warm up and charge their phones. For those areas still impacted by widespread power outages, there’s even a guy going around riding a stationary bike to generate enough power to charge residents’ mobile devices.
Newark, N.J., mayor Cory Booker, who famously rushed into a burning house to save a neighbor, opened his home up to a neighbor who didn’t have power. A few hours — and dozens of tweets — later, he was hanging out in his house, a modest three-story building in the heart of Newark, with around a dozen displaced Newark residents, having lunch delivered and letting them watch DVDs.
But acts of kindness weren’t limited to just public officials. The Drink, a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, bar, decided they didn’t need 1,000 sandwiches as much as the folks in Lower Manhattan would, so they shipped them all across the East River Friday morning. They are preparing to ship another 1,000 to Far Rockaway, Queens in the coming days. Owner Adam Collison says it was simple to round up support: he put the word out on his bar’s Facebook page and 60 people showed up at 8 a.m. Friday to make sandwiches and package clothes. He says there’s no ulterior motive for his bar’s small-scale, yet big-hearted action. “I really didn’t have a plan,” he said. “We’re just doing it.”
Larger-scale volunteer efforts are being organized by New York City Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio, whose office phone rang incessantly after the storm, rounding up more than 2,000 volunteers who were offering their help. So far, his office has dispatched roughly 300 people to all parts of the city, to perform tasks ranging from distributing drinking water to people who don’t have it in Chinatown to delivering meals on wheels to needy senior citizens, to distributing FEMA information to impacted neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn. DeBlasio spokesman Wiley Norvell says most volunteers come from unaffected areas, but he’s seen some helpers from neighborhoods without power who just want to put their otherwise sunken time to charitable use.
It may sound like an contradiction in the city usually thought of as having a self-centered attitude. But it’s not hard to have a heart when gazing upon so much destruction. Bar owner Collison put it concisely: “We’re New Yorkers and human at the same time.”