Building Community in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

The story of Hurricane Sandy is one of tremendous loss, courage, and a slow recovery. My story is about the power of friendship and community and it begins somewhere after the second leg of summer Phish tour.

When Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast, I was in Santa Barbara enjoying a small Burning Man party. I couldn't get a flight back to NYC for a week, but when I returned to Brooklyn, I found that my neighborhood had very little damage and my day to day life was fairly unaffected. My life hadn't changed.

Then I got a call from my Phish touring team partner, Laura Scalet, looking to help with disaster relief. Our conversation really inspired a desire to take action. We figured if we could organize Phish fans to vote than we could do just about anything… and it’s true.

Since then, I've been helping organize volunteers for muck-outs in the Rockaways and Staten Island where, not only are there thousands of people still without heat or hot water, but mold is becoming a serious health threat as the winter weather settles in.

Last Friday, I was in the Rockaways handing out sleeping bags door to door. I would find people living in their homes even though their walls were gutted and the interiors were completely water damaged. I didn’t fully realize the effects of the storm until people started sharing their stories.

One man I met had a number of ailments and couldn't walk to relief aid distribution centers. If it weren't for community groups, he might not be able to find his own aid. A mother had lost her job because the daycare center was flooded and she was staying home with her children. She hoped to get volunteers during the week to help baby sit. I met one young man who couldn't afford his new medical bills after breaking his arm repairing his parent’s home. He was looking for a lawyer who might offer pro-bono help.

The list of hardships that residents are facing are goes on and on. Insurance companies and FEMA are predictably backed up in dealing with claims, so people have to shell out for new furnaces and hot water heaters. If they don't have the money, they're literally left in the cold. On top of that, mold removal costs around $10,000 to $20,000, and people are getting sick from mold poisoning. FEMA is going to bring in trailers to house people who still can't return home, but won't put the trailers anywhere near their neighborhood, because it's a flood plain.

As I heard story after story, the effects of the hurricane became much more real and the support needed seemed overwhelming. I wondered how I could possibly make a real difference…

There is a sign that hangs above an Occupy Sandy hub that reads “PEOPLE POWERED RECOVERY”. Each time I see this sign, I think about all the folks that I interacted with through out this recovery that told me how much they appreciated my efforts – including the simple task of listening to their stories. I've been inspired to realize the impact of our efforts.  Especially my girl, Laura, who is still out there bringing her healing goddess wisdom to everyone she meets. While establishments and agencies can rebuild bridges and homes, it is the power of shared experience that connects communities and can provide much needed comfort and hope. A concert is one of the greatest shared experiences and I hope to anchor that energy into my relief efforts.

 Want to join Laura and Laura's Sandy relief efforts in NYC? Send an email under the subject "Sandy" to [email protected]. Or join a Facebook community of relief workers to get up-to-the-minute info on how you can help