We started our last day in Staten Island by signing out of our dorms and eating breakfast together in the Wagner cafeteria. We were sad to be leaving and tired from the work of the last few days, but excited for the day ahead. All of the students were split into two groups- one group going to Tunnel to Towers and the other to Project Hospitality. Those who volunteered with Project Hospitality worked at a soup kitchen and food pantry. They spent the day assisting the unloading of trucks, stocking of the food pantry, and the preparation and serving of meals. They also had the opportunity to bring food to the tables and speak with the people whom they were serving.
For those of us who were assigned to Tunnel to Towers, we had the chance to meet our friend Tony again (the animated Staten Island native who had given us a tour on Monday) and many other inspirational individuals. The organization was started after the events of 9/11 by the friends and family of firefighter Stephen Siller. Siller worked for the FDNY and, after hearing that planes had hit the World Trade Center, ran from the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers with over 70 pounds of gear. The hero never returned home that day but it was important to Siller’s family and friends that his efforts and the efforts of all those who died that day would not be forgotten. So, they organized a run/walk to follow the path that Stepehn Siller took on the morning of September 11, 2001. It grew from a few hundred to over 30,000 participants in eleven years and raised an enormous amount of money for those families affected by 9/11.
Knowing the types of hearts in the men and women who began this organization, it was no surprise that after Superstorm Sandy hit, they knew they needed to help. They started by driving around in trucks delivering any supplies that they could. They took donations and soon organized in warehouses and stores to house all of the items that they were receiving. My classmates and I volunteered in an old Duane Reade stocked with food, cleaning supplies, toiletries, furniture, reconstruction and demolition equipment, and many other things. If it could be distributed, they took it. Tunnel to Towers created a resource for people who were affected by the devastation of Sandy to come and shop. They relieved some of the pressures and stresses of those individuals who were and are still dealing with the realities of whether or not they have a home to live in. My group helped unload shipments and organize the shelves so that other volunteers could shop for men and women who came in for food and supplies. We worked great as a team and truly enjoyed ourselves. It was an honor to have the opportunity to help organizations such as these that are dedicated to serving others.
Through my experiences this week I learned not only about the “forgotten borough” filled with those who are still suffering and need assistance, but also about the humanity in all of the individuals who offered time and money to help. Not only did fellow New Yorkers flood in to work in homes and distribute food, but thousands from all over the country as well. Although the local governments may not have responded as efficiently and quickly as many expected, the volunteers who assisted, many that also lost so much, made the biggest impact. Just like after September 11th, we as New Yorkers, Americans, and as a people showed our true colors and came together. I learned from seeing the responses of many after Sandy and from this experience that I am proud to call this place my home. I was also so proud to be working alongside my fellow classmates. We worked as a team and truly bonded through the entire trip, whether it was through playing Apples to Apples until 1:30 in the morning, eating lunch in the vans, struggling to tear up layers of flooring, or balancing on joists as we scrubbed mold. It was refreshing to be surrounded by other students and individuals who wanted to make a difference and work alongside you to selflessly help those in need. Alternative Spring Break was definitely one of the most rewarding experiences that I’ve had at Pace. I am thankful to have had this opportunity and to have had the chance to learn about myself, others, and the pressing issues in my own area.