As I entered the Staten Island Ferry building, I saw a group of about 10 women wearing boots, holding shovels, rakes, and large bags filled to the brim. They were exactly who I hoped to find. I asked if they were headed to help clean up the island and if I could join them. They immediately welcomed me into their group, threw me a broom, and minutes later we were walking onto the boat. I learned they were headed to New Dorp, one of the heaviest hit areas. They had a contact there and planned to clean up houses.
After taking a ferry, the S78 bus, and walking, it took about 1.5 hours to get to New Dorp. In that time I was able to tell them my story of raising money and training for a canceled marathon. I even confessed that I was wearing the shirt I was going to wear in the race. I didn't tell them that I had my race bib in my backpack, too. I was secretly treating this as my marathon. In rain boots.
When we finally got to New Dorp, our joking/happy vibe changed. I separated myself from my group slightly as I saw the houses effected by the storm. They were completely gutted out. Everything that once was inside, was in a heaping pile in the homeowners font yard, mixed with tree limbs, dirt, and leaves. I saw soaked dresser drawers with birthday candles, scotch tape, and pencils still inside them. Window sills. Muddy toys. Rugs. Floor boards. Every one's possessions were exposed. I vowed to not take any pictures of houses. It seemed too personal. I silently cried as we walked down street after street of wreckage. I wondered if I was going to be emotionally strong enough to help.
And that's when my Marathon began. We found our street and I got working. Basically, my race took place on the tiny Waterside Street. For around six hours, we walked debris away from the front steps of people's houses to the main street, Cedar Grove Ave. Why? Two reasons. One: To make it easier for sanitation to pick it up the trash in one swoop instead of stopping at each individual house. And two: To make their yards and street look back to normal again. No one should be faced with a mound of trash as they walk out of their house or look out their front window. I can't describe how massive these piles were.
In the six hours we were there and with the help of around 35 people, we cleaned up half the street. Some of the people helping were locals and others, like us, just showed up. My favorite was when homeowners asked what group we were from. When this happened, everyone just shrugged their shoulders. One person just claimed Manhattan. We were the Manhattan Group.
By the end of the day, around the same time I would have finished my marathon, a Brooklyn biker group called Hallowed Sons MC provided us with a delicious hot meal. They served vodka pasta with rolls, grilled hamburgers, chicken burgers, fresh fruit, drinks, and even a quinoa and apple salad! They provided more than enough food to serve everyone in the community and the volunteers. Great people providing a great service.
On the walk back to the bus, all the women I worked with handed out their shovels and rakes to people in need. I gave out my working gloves. A small contribution that I hoped help.
I was exhausted when I came out of the elevator to my home. Of course my kids were bouncing in and out of our apartment. I forgot about the party my neighbor was throwing for our hallway. I cleaned up a little and stopped in her place to say hello. I love the people in my hall and building. Most of them have been here since we moved in and this storm has brought us a little closer. With all the parks being closed, we've had to create more play dates to keep our kids from going bonkers. It's been nice. After saying hello, I gathered my kids to go home for bed. Oscar and Ella fell right asleep. Owen fought it for a little, but eventually went down.
As I sat on the couch and inhaled five pieces of Halloween candy, I reflected on the day. For me, it was about communities. An impromptu clean-up group. A bunch a bikers with surprisingly good culinary skills. A hodgepodge group of people from our hallway. We're in this together. For support, for nourishment, for fun. I wouldn't want to experience life from anywhere else. NYC, you've out done yourself again.
(below: my team and my scooter take on Staten Island)
this is the main street (Cedar Grove) where we dumped all the debris.
the trash goes on for miles.
looking at this street on google maps and seeing what it used to look like is heart breaking.
they were so nice and gracious!
the padding shown was a major part of our street clean up.
i'm sure someone will tackle this mess in the woods soon.
PS For a variety of reasons, I'm shutting the comments off of this post.
My emotions are running high today.
I hope you can understand. :)
But, as always, feel free to email me with grammatical errors!