Claudio Gomez, in green jacket, and other UAlbany volunteers distribute necessities to Far Rockaway residents

Claudio Gomez, M.A.’09

Helping Others to Weather the Storm

By Greta Petry, M.A.’01


n 2011, after Tropical Storm Irene rolled across upstate New York, University at Albany Senior Academic Adviser and Educational Opportunities Program (EOP) Counselor Claudio Gomez drove to severely flooded Schoharie County to see if his family needed help. By the time he arrived at their Middleburgh home, his mother and brother had already evacuated. Unable initially to locate them, Gomez feared they had been lost in the storm. He later learned they were safe.

Stefon Wells, Cecil Belfon Jr. and Gomez

Stefon Wells, Cecil Belfon Jr. and Gomez take a break.

When Hurricane Sandy made landfall over New York City last fall, Gomez remembered his emotional response to the storm that had affected his family 14 months earlier. Determined to assist those impacted by the October 2012 superstorm, he launched Project Sandy at UAlbany. “My initial idea,” Gomez explained, “was not only to bring relief to those individuals in need, but also to spark others to take action and create their own aid efforts.”

Gomez, a magna cum laude management/finance graduate who also earned a master’s in liberal studies, marshaled volunteers and resources quickly. “A big percentage of the student population was involved in Project Sandy. Everyone played a major role in this initiative,” he observed.

Umaru Barrie

Umaru Barrie is ready for Project Sandy 2.0, a cleanup effort organized during the winter break.

In November, Gomez and a group from UAlbany made one trip to Far Rockaway in conjunction with the Student Association, the Office of Student Involvement & Leadership, the Department of Residential Life, and various student organizations, delivering a bus full of donated goods to makeshift shelters. At one, they witnessed people turned away because of limited space and an overabundance of certain items, such as clothing. The volunteers quickly refocused their efforts and handed out blankets, canned goods and baby formula to those in need.

For a second trip to the area last December, “we went with three buses,” recounted Gomez, who came to the United States with his family 20 years ago from Colombia. “During the winter break, [student] Umaru Barrie returned to Far Rockaway to do a cleanup initiative known as Project Sandy 2.0. He told me the need is still there. It’s sad to say, but people really think that, once you donate, everything will be fine. But the need will always be there. The rebuilding process is going to take a while.”

Gomez hopes that UAlbany students will “create some type of [permanent] disaster-relief group on campus. We need a central location and an organization to address these types of issues.”