Forty University of Florida students, two advisers and one 16-hour bus ride to New York. That’s all it took for the University of Florida’s chapter of Hillel to organize a trip to help rebuild neighborhoods damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Melissa Stern, the engagment associate for UF Hillel, said a public invite was sent out on Monday, students were notified about making it onto the trip on Wednesday and then the buses left on Thursday.
“It was a bit crazy, but everyone was just still as excited to go,” she said. “It was a very quick trip made and planned.”
UF sophomore Summer Benson made the trip and said despite how hectic it was to prepare for the trip, she wouldn’t have missed the experience.
“It was kind of overwhelming and chaotic, but in my head I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted to go,” she said.
UF sophomore Katie Duguid also helped in the relief effort and said her experience working in the Rockaway neighborhood of Queens was unlike anything she imagined.
“It’s like you have this nature that is really calm, and you’ve just got the ocean and you have the beach and there’s a bunch of really big seashells around, and on the complete other side of it, you’ve got these broken houses where there are pieces of roofs missing or the walls are gone and it’s just piles of wood and garbage everywhere,” she said.
Benson said the stories she heard over the weekend from families made her truly realize the full effects of the storm.
“It’s really hard to put yourself in their shoes and just to be able to go and hear those stories it just kind of opens your eyes to the whole situation and makes you realize you know these people are working hard to rebuild, and it’s just amazing that they were able to survive that storm and still be positive about it,” she said.
Duguid said the families she worked with were extremely grateful. She said there were some tough moments, but she had to remain strong.
“They warned us on the bus that you really can’t break down because you’re a second party and these are the people who have experienced it,” she said. “At this point it is emotional and it’s poignant and it’s going to affect you, but you need to truck through.”
UF Hillel trip coordinator Melissa Stern said overall the trip was a success.
“When I was able to have conversations with the families we were helping and they were telling us that the amount of work we got done in one day would’ve taken that family two weeks that’s when I really knew we were doing something bigger than ourselves,” she said.
Stern said UF Hillel is hoping to help with other natural disaster relief efforts in the future.
Emily Miller wrote this story for online.