This is an intimate community. Most of our student population is localized, much like our staff and faculty. Part of the advantage of that proximity is the benefit of shared experiences. For Shannon Rom, Nicalette Isola, Lisa Arquer and Samantha Lotfi, the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy has reinforced an unbreakable relationship with St. Joseph’s College. These young women are just four of more than 50 SJC students who reached out for support after the devastating storm wiped out their entire livelihoods. Thanks to the help of their College community, each was provided with financial aid through our Hurricane Sandy Student Relief Fund. Their voices are gathered here, unique in their individual experience, but resonating the collected effort of rebuilding in their struggle to pick up the pieces left behind. All speak one truth: though more than six months have passed since the storm, the actual physical and mental labor involved in moving forward is more intense than ever.
The events of October 29 are, for many, just a fading memory. For me, nothing has faded. For me, when I close my eyes I can still see the floodwaters; the icy gray current that was racing down my street. I can still feel the initial shock of first jumping into the freezing water; I still feel the current pulling wildly at my hips, and the rain and wind hitting me squarely in the face as I made my way down the street. I can still feel the terror rising into my throat with every step that I took to get to my car; the sight of the waves engulfing the hood of my car as we drove for our lives will surely haunt me for the rest of my life. Like the survivors of natural disasters who came before us, and the survivors who will unfortunately come after us, our memories of that nightmarish day have become a part of who we are.
The events that occurred after the hurricane are just a blur. I remember trying to get back to our house the day after the storm. I remember the look on the police officer’s face when he told us that our block had been condemned and water had gone into all of our houses. I remember finally being able to get back into our house; I remember how it looked, I remember how it smelled. I remember going into my room and seeing everything I owned thrown all over the floor and soaked in canal water, sewage and oil. I remember how devastating my block looked when we first drove down it. I remember the tears that I shed looking at priceless things that were lost forever; signatures from my friends in my high school yearbooks, my diploma. I remember my feelings: disbelief, sorrow, and rage all rolled into one small package. I remember my four family members and I sharing one car. I remember coming back to school. Most importantly, I remember being lead to two angels who picked me up when others did not know how.
S. Karen Donohue and Gianna Hooper need to be recognized for the work that they did and are still doing, and the incredible amount of kindness in their hearts. These two women put up with me bursting into their office at all hours of the day; they gave me food, supplies and invaluable emotional support. Without these two wonderful women, I do not have the slightest idea how I would have gotten through the rest of the semester. They helped me apply to the St. Joseph’s College Emergency Fund, which paid a large amount of my tuition for both the 2012 fall semester, and the 2013 spring semester. Without the money that St. Joseph’s College gave to me in my time of crisis and great need, I may not have been able to attend school this semester. Without the kindness and endless patience of the two angels who work on the second floor in O’Connor Hall, Hurricane Sandy may have gotten the better of me. It did not, and I am eternally grateful.
Many people in Lindenhurst underestimated the strength of Sandy. Having lived here for 14 years, high tides and flooding from the canals and the bay was not uncommon. But the tremendous damage that was done from the storm will be forever embedded in my mind. Homes flooded with water as high as five and six feet in some instances. Sewage, mold and contaminants flooded people’s homes, garages and cars. The entire town was sequestered by the National Guard.
We lost our flooring, our deck, our clothes, our workout machines, bikes, jackets, blankets, shoes, books, photos — everything imaginable. Every necessity that we take for granted having every day. But worst of all, we lost years of memories.
When such a tragedy occurs, everything in your life stops. I could not help but feel blessed for what I had left, but I was definitely overwhelmed knowing that recovery was going to take a very, very long time.
I had missed two weeks of school, and the minute I stepped back onto the Long Island Campus of SJC, I felt right at home. I had my Theta Phi Alpha sisters running up to me, and calling me every single day to make sure that my family and I were okay. S. Karen Donohue and Gianna Juliano-Hooper [Office of the Academic Dean] found me and said, “Are you OK? I promise you everything will be just fine, we will help you through it all!” I remember being amazed that they even knew who I was and were so concerned about my family. They gave my family and I two huge boxes with supplies. But above all they provided me with emotional support. They have become my SJC family, and I know that if I were at any other college institution, I wouldn’t have been blessed with the same experience.
[Director of Student Activities and Co-Curricular Programs] Marian Russo, and Jeannie Grega in Student Life also were huge influences on my life. Ms. Grega drove 40 minutes to Lindenhurst to hand out 30 hot pizza pies to people clearing out their homes with a huge truck filled with jackets, food and baby formula.
I was so shocked to hear that St. Joseph’s would be covering the remaining amount of my finances left before graduation in May. My mom is in the dual MBA program at SJC, as well as my older sister, Jacqueline, who studies marketing. My younger sister, Shannon, is transferring to SJC in fall for speech pathology and my youngest sister, Ashley, is graduating high school this year and just received a beautiful award package from SJC. I sincerely am proud to be a part of higher education that values their students and staff as much as SJC does.
Hurricane Sandy had a major impact on my life. Not only did I have six feet of water in my apartment, but my home was completely destroyed, as well as all of my family’s belongings. Everything that I had ever owned had been washed away in this tragic storm. The very next day that I came back to see the aftermath of my home, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It took a toll on me both mentally and emotionally. I could say that Hurricane Sandy was something I have never experienced before in my life and I pray that no one should ever go through the pain, suffering, life loss and destruction that the people went through that had been affected by this storm.
I lived in a two-bedroom basement apartment in Old Howard Beach, Queens, with my mother. My family and I didn’t evacuate because we were in a Zone B area. Around 7 p.m., water started coming out of the walls, windows and through the front door of my apartment. The first thing I grabbed was my dog and some valuable belongings. My mother and I immediately went upstairs to my landlord’s apartment; if it wasn’t for him and his family we would’ve drowned. All of our belongings were destroyed: food, shoes, clothing, electronics, diplomas, my textbooks, photo albums. Outside the water was up to the rooftop of cars. My mother ended up losing her car because the water outside was so high up, the engine completely blew.
The day after the storm, my uncle picked us up and brought us back to his apartment in Whitestone. We had no clothes except for the ones that we had on our back from the night before. We also didn’t have any shoes to wear except for the shoes my uncle brought us. The day after, we went back to the apartment to see if we could save any of our belongings. As soon as I walked into our home, the stench was so strong that I couldn’t breathe. It was so upsetting to know that everything that I had ever owned was completely gone and covered in sewage. However, I was able to grab most of my sewage-covered clothes and shoes and put it in garbage bags to bring home and wash.
I was so honored when I got a letter in the mail from St. Joseph’s College informing me that I had been given [money] towards tuition from the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund. St. Joseph’s did a lot to help their students who had been affected by the storm and they were also extremely generous. I am honored to go to a school that cares a lot about their students and also grateful for the money that I was awarded that is going towards tuition.
Water filled and surrounded the house with my family trapped on the second floor.
We first noticed the fire when chunks of flames started flying passed the windows. It was jumping house to house with such speed we knew we had to leave before it caught us too. My dad threw a surfboard onto the rushing water and put my youngest brother on it, I carried the dog, and my mom, sister and other brother followed him down the block through the high winds and debris filled water. We made it to a neighbor’s house where I watched my home of 19 years burn down. The wind and fire then changed course and we had to leave that house too. We eventually made it to another friend’s house farther away from the fire, which was where I slept on the floor in wet clothes to the sound of fire engines, hoping that I would wake up and this would have all just been a nightmare.
St. Joseph’s College has been a great support system after this whole experience. They quickly responded with a relief drive and also donated housing to students who could no longer live at home. The Sandy Relief Fund has allowed me to live in the dorms another semester, and it makes life easier for my parents knowing that I’m able to get to and from school easily. The professors were very understanding about my hardship and as a whole the institution just helped greatly with trying to get my life back on track.
It’s still very hard to believe that everything is gone, and it’ll be a long time until things are back to normal, but each day we get closer to being home again. Things can be replaced, and it was truly a miracle that there were no casualties. We are going to rebuild our house when the fire area is clear, and are currently in the process of redoing my grandmother’s house, which was ruined by the flood. When her house is done we will be able to at least live in Breezy Point again and just continue trying to rebuild our lives.
It goes without saying that we as New Yorkers have endured difficulties in the past. But natural disasters were never a constant matter of concern. Today, we have to specify which historical storm we’re referencing when we simply discuss the last season.
Much has been publicized of the post-Sandy landscape. The news coverage was national, the fundraising concert at Madison Square Garden broadcast globally. But as most things go, after the cameras turn off and the reports die down, local residents are left picking up the pieces. There are still thousands displaced and lifetimes lost to the devastating fires, gusts and flooding.
At St. Joseph’s, the only way to move forward was to build a durable support system founded around our already sturdy relationships. Since the days after the storm, the College’s Hurricane Sandy Student Relief Fund has served as a manifestation of every ounce of giving that our alumni, staff, faculty and friends could muster.
Immediately after Sandy’s full impact was felt, the choice was made to cancel the College’s 30th annual Scholarship Gala. Quickly following that first determination was a second: to create the SJC Hurricane Sandy Student Relief Fund. Bolstered by initial donations from the Scholarship Gala’s would-be honorees, the Honorable Joan B. Carey ’61 and the Rev. Monsignor David L. Cassato, the Fund took immediate shape.
We’ve since raised an impressive amount for our students who were worst affected by the Superstorm, and are able to help those who were hit worst. Students like Lisa, Samantha, Shannon and Nicalette.
While the Student Relief Fund served as a monetary homebase for those who needed financial assistance, several sites on our campuses became tangible extensions of our efforts — serving those who needed physical assistance, and needed it quickly.
In the days following Sandy, school districts across New York lent their gymnasiums and auditoriums to house displaced members of the community, but were given no choice but to redistribute these community members once classes resumed. So it was that the John A. Danzi Athletic Center became an emergency home for those displaced in the weeks following the storm. This Humanitarian Relief Project, in conjunction with the American Red Cross, brought together resources and volunteers to serve hundreds who were in desperate need of food, water and, most of all, shelter.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Campus teamed up with the Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew on Clinton Avenue to collect and deliver much-needed items. Coordinating with Occupy Sandy Recovery (interoccupy.net/occupysandy), the site became a major distribution center for New York City, coordinating to recovery sites across the boroughs.
To further assist the effort, the College established Collection Relief Centers at the Office of Institutional Advancement in Downtown Patchogue and at the Tuohy Hall Auditorium in Brooklyn. Within hours of publicizing the centers, donations came pouring in. Hundreds of items, from canned food, clothes, blankets, sanitary products and coats piled against the doors. St. Joseph’s College, from our assisted students to those affected worse, had once again come together for the cause.
And we’re still helping. Folks on both campuses continue to provide assistance for those without access to their homes. We may not have the bountiful resources once raised through our temporary relief centers, but we are still actively giving.
The benefit of such a tragedy is to see the positive light shed in the aftermath. While homes are still being rebuilt and businesses struggle to return to normalcy, many of us found hope through friends and companionship through strangers. For these four SJC students who were generous enough to share their stories after having lost nearly everything, this historic storm provided an unforeseen bond.
Remember, though the storm is long gone, there are many students who are still struggling to support themselves and their families. If you’d like to learn more about the Hurricane Sandy Student Relief Fund and what you can do to help, visit giving.sjcny.edu.