Can I Please Volunteer?!

Hurricane Sandy lasted less than a week but successfully brought destruction to more than 24 states in the United States.  Torn up roads, blown away houses, ripped out power lines, and flooding of every nook and cranny has led to a conservative estimate of $20 billion in damage. While the loss of all of these material things is horrific, the most devastating consequence is certainly the lives lost and lives affected by the storm. The death toll continues to climb, now up to 98 people, and over 8.5 million homes and business suffered power outages making everyday necessities like preparing food, heat, and running water an impossible feat.

Due to their positioning on the East Coast in the exact path of the hurricane, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut experienced the most devastation in the U.S. Up until last October 21st, my home was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, safely tucked away between the Great Lakes far from this past week’s coastal beating. After receiving an internship at the American Action Forum, I moved to the great city of Washington D.C. Some may say that my recent move into D.C. was poorly timed as it did occur 5 days before Sandy hit the area. I on the other hand saw it as a great opportunity to help New Jersey and New York residents directly since I am now only a four-hour drive away. I was hoping to spend my weekend cleaning up debris from the New Jersey shore, aid evacuating or overcrowded hospitals in Manhattan, or help serve food in disaster shelters. I was ready and willing to delay my move into my new apartment, miss Michigan taking home the little brown jug at Saturday’s football game, and bail on my plans with the few friends I’ve managed to make during this past week in D.C.

I began searching the web for an organized trip to the area because I don’t have a car to drive up myself and most other commercial transportation is not yet functioning. My volunteer plans were looking gloom since most organizations including the Red Cross offered help through donations only. As a recent graduate and current intern, my monetary donations will not help anywhere near as much as my hands-on volunteering would.  As my hopes dipped at an all-time low, a coworker of mine told me about a volunteer trip organized by Georgetown University. The deal was the school would rent a bus to drive to the NY and NJ area where volunteers would spend the weekend working on various projects. What made this even better was the fact that you didn’t need to be a Georgetown student to join. As I started getting ready for the weekend, I received an email from my coworker saying the trip was cancelled due to failed administrative organization.

It’s now Friday and I have been forced to accept that my desire to help will not occur any time soon. Turns out, living close to NYC doesn’t mean that I can lend a hand at will. I have to rely on organizations to coordinate a trip, spend days searching under every rock for the trip announcement, and even after getting on board, hoping that bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way of the trip actually occurring. While I am grateful and impressed by the quick response of relief programs such as the Red Cross, I wish that monetary and blood donations were not the only available manners in which I can lend a hand. I am sure that I am not the only one willing to volunteer her time to relief efforts so I hope that the lack of opportunity to help, for those of us whose community was lucky enough to be spared the horrific destruction, will be resolved soon. After all this is the nation’s capital…