A guest post by our Rockaways volunteer team leader, Emily Bell, as edited by GoodwillNyNj

GoodwillNyNj headed out to the Rockaways, putting boots on the ground and spreading hope through hard work and ample goodwill.

Last Sunday, in honor of Veteran’s Day and giving back, 12 volunteers joined together to represent Goodwill in the Rockaways. The volunteers worked under the coordination and direction of Team Rubicon, a group that organizes volunteering events in the Rockaways through communicating with residents about their most pressing needs.

Our team led by article author Emily Bell, here joined by the Belle Harbor home owner and Team Rubicon leader.

On this trip, the volunteers removed debris, ceiling staples, and water-soaked walls from the basement of one house and canvassed the backyard of a burnt-out house for any family valuables that might be salvaged.

For photos detailing the day, visit our Facebook album HERE. To find out more about what our team accomplished in the Rockaways, and how you, too, can get involved, click below to read more.

This past Sunday, a team of twelve Goodwill volunteers gathered at the Lighthouse, our Manhattan headquarters on Sunday at 8am. Breakfast was generously donated by Panera Bread. Lunch boxes were also generously provided by Whole Foods.

At 8:30, the volunteers left Manhattan and drove in a Goodwill Van to the volunteer rally point at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. From the rally point, the volunteers rode on school bus shuttles to the check-in location in Rockaway Beach where Team Rubicon stationed their volunteer check-in and operations.

We met our Team Leader, George Rivera, a veteran and the Public Works Commissioner from the City of Huntington Beach Public Works Department. He was a volunteer with Team Rubicon who had spent the week working with them to help streamline and organize their operations.

We received two work orders from Team Rubicon and gathered supplies to tackle sheet-rock and remove debris. Our supplies included safety glasses, hard hats, shovels, gloves, buckets, trash bags, crowbars, hammers, and other necessary items all provided by Team Rubicon for our use for the day.

Our first project happened to already have been completed, so we moved on to the second order at a house that was three houses away from the ocean. The street we walked down was still covered in sand and bulldozers were in the street clearing sand as fast as they could.

Volunteers at every house were using buckets to bring sand out of backyards and basements and put it in the street for the bulldozers to reach and remove. Our order here also had already been completed, so we took ourselves back to the base to receive our next orders.

Although discouraging for a motivated group to not be able to jump right into action, we saw these first two projects as a positive because it meant that work is being done to help and it’s being done quickly so that water damage and mold did not continue to grow.

The water line was still visible on the house our team tackled. The basement suffered severe water damage. Our team had found its project for the day.

At base we received an order that had not been completed so we headed out again ready to tackle whatever was requested. At the house, we were asked to clear out debris and remove the ceiling from the homeowner’s basement.

The basement was dark, cold and wet with debris all over the floor. The wood paneling around the rooms was soggy and a hazard to the homeowner’s health. First, we shoveled debris on the floor and took it out to the curb in trash bags. Then, a few volunteers begin to take down the ceiling tiles which crumbled as soon at the lightest touch.

As the tiles came down, staples were revealed and the tedious task of removing the staples began. In the back room, two closets, a tool chest, cinderblocks, and a sink were being demolished and removed. The wood paneling that broke up the space into three rooms was then demolished and removed, as well.

GoodwillNyNj’s team of twelve completed the work in less than two hours and the homeowner was extremely grateful to have the help. His home was built in the 30s and he had lived there his whole life. Many family treasures were lost in the basement, but he was able to salvage his Grandmother’s Persian rug and his surfboard – two things of great financial and emotional value to him.

Our next order was to help a woman who lost her entire house to an electrical fire go through some of the debris to find family valuables. She had been in her house for 29 years and all four stories – basement, first floor, second floor and attic had been leveled in the fire. Her house sat next to a community gathering point at St. Francis de Sales church, but only her house and her neighbor’s had been taken in the fire.

We did our best to dig around in the backyard to clear up debris, searching for any items from her home, but we didn’t find anything significant. Still, the moral support we provided in listening to her story and trying to help was something she really appreciated.

Many others who lost parts of their home in the storm also needed that kind of help. In the parking lot near the church, tents were set up to assist residents with emotional, legal, financial, and other essential needs.

Overall, there are many houses and people who still need help cleaning up their homes and moving forward, but there are organized and efficient groups in the most-devastated areas who could really use people to help them meet the needs of the residents.

The day was a success and a lot of useful work was done, thanks in large part to Team Rubicon’s direction. If you’re looking to get involved on the ground in the Rockaways, New Jersey, Long Island, South Brooklyn or other areas hard-hit by the storm, here are a few good resources to get you the information you need to volunteer:

We’d love to hear about your volunteering experience, and we hope to have future events where you will be able to join us on ours. Please post in the comments about what you’ve seen and contributed, and also, please spread the word that all Goodwill stores are offering a $50 in-store shopping credit per family member for those who lost property in the storm. For more information, visit our website article, “Goodwill Relief to Hurricane Sandy Victims.

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