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World of Difference: UAlbany Students Support Project Sandy Relief Efforts

ALBANY, N.Y. (December 20, 2012) – In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, University at Albany students, faculty and staff supported relief efforts in a variety of capacities both at home and afar. Volunteers mucked out homes destroyed by the flood waters, distributed food, water and supplies to hard-hit areas, and raised essential funds.

Unloading food and supplies in Far Rockaway

From left, one of several bus drivers from Durham School Services assists UAlbany students Alex Masih and C. J. Belfon Jr. unload boxes of canned food and supplies for storm survivors in Far Rockaway. (Photo by Stefon Wells)

After seeing the devastation left by the storm, students rallied on Facebook to support Project Sandy. The effort was begun by UAlbany Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) counselor Claudio Gomez, who remembered how he felt when his mother's home outside Cobleskill was hit by Hurricane Irene last year. His mother had to  find another place to live. Working with the Student Association and the Office of Student Involvement & Leadership, Gomez established centralized donation collection locations, raised thousands of dollars, and organized bus trips of volunteers who brought much needed support to storm survivors.

Highlights of UAlbany’s relief efforts include:

  • Nearly 90 UAlbany students dragged soggy furniture from damaged homes in Rockaway, knocked down moldy drywall, pumped out basements, and shoveled sand left behind by the storm. This Day of Service in Rockaway, Queens, was organized by Rev. Sandy Damhof of UAlbany’s Interfaith Center with support by the Office of Student Success and University Auxiliary Services.
  • UAlbany EOP students made two trips to Far Rockaway, Queens, to deliver flashlights, bottled water, and canned food to those in need, many of whom had neither electricity nor heat more than a month after the storm.
  • About 400 UAlbany students rallied to raise $4,300 at Raffle Night organized by residential life. The proceeds went to All Nations Baptist Church of Woodhaven, Inc., a church actively helping storm victims clean up and repair their homes.
  • Donations in the amount of $1,500 were raised for the Food Bank for New York City through the Project Sandy website. Additional funds were raised through the site for the American Red Cross.

“The sights and sounds reminded me much of what UAlbany volunteers encountered during our first trip to New Orleans after Katrina,” said Damhof. “Block after block, and mile after mile, you see homes appearing okay from the outside, but once you step through the front door you realize the power of the tidal surge.”

According to Damhof, in many homes and businesses, the water level rose six to eight feet, causing flooded basements and first floors. Students told Damhof the experience was unforgettable.

Ally Berlingieri, a UAlbany senior from Rockaway Park, was part of a team that helped a homeowner on 66th Street in Far Rockaway rip down the badly damaged ceilings, walls and floors in his house. Her own family lives just 10 minutes away.

“My family still does not have heat nearly seven weeks after the storm. Our electricity returned during Thanksgiving,” said Berlingieri. “The fact that my school is reaching out to my hometown made me ecstatic.”

C.J. Belfon Jr., a UAlbany senior who participated in the EOP trip to Far Rockaway, said, “I was not going to miss this trip. I love these efforts because it shows me that there are still good people who help and support one another. We were able to see what is really needed in these neighborhoods. There’s a lot of help needed elsewhere as well and I plan to go to Red Hook, Brooklyn, on another date to assist further.”

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