Thanksgiving in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy

by Guest Writer

This Thanksgiving I feel like I have so much to be thankful for. Of course, there’s the usual—my health, the health of my family and of course, I’m thankful in general for my family. This year is unique, though. As someone who lives on Long Island, an area that is still suffering from Tropical Storm Sandy, I’m thankful for my family’s safety. I’m thankful that I still have a livable home, especially when people a half mile south of me have homes that are in shambles from major water damage.

My town, Massapequa, has become forgotten by many in the wake of Sandy’s devastation. Unlike nearby Long Beach, Massapequa is not missing streets, but many people are unable to return to their homes—homes that took in several feet of water, and when emptied left behind sand, mud, seaweed and dead fish. Nearly two weeks after Sandy, many of those homes are still without power, and homeowners are receiving little communication. The lack of electricity compounded with long lines at gas stations makes the community of Massapequa reminiscent of something you would expect to see in a socialist country at best, a third world country at worst. It certainly doesn’t look like it did when I moved here almost six years ago. Of course, the constant is the sense of community which I relish.

The suffering felt in Massapequa is also being felt in a number of other communities throughout the Northeast that were hit by Sandy. And sadly, many communities have a number of families suffering as a result of joblessness and the poor economy that seems to have plagued our country, as well. I think that as a community of mom’s looking for a natural approach to raising our families, one of the most natural things is to teach our children compassion and charity. That said, I think there are some ways we could deviate from our traditional ways of celebrating Thanksgiving, and moving it to more of a community approach—similar to the first Thanksgiving.

Following are some ideas for spreading the Thanksgiving spirit beyond your own family—into your community and other communities that may be suffering for a number of reasons.

Community Thanksgiving Celebration: With so many people without a home to celebrate Thanksgiving in, a nice option might be to organize a community-wide celebration open to all (displaced or not). Look into local catering halls that may be willing to open their doors to the community. My dad’s family reserves a local fire hall every year to house the entire extended family. There are also VFW Halls, Knights of Columbus Halls, American Legions and community centers. Many will waive their fees if you explain what you are doing. To reach out to people to invite them, I would recommend going door-to-door with fliers (since many people still are without internet and television access in the hardest hit areas). Of course many still have access through smart phones, so Facebook is also an option for publicizing. Ask people (who can) to bring a dish to pass, but don’t make it a requirement, since some simply cannot.

Donate Your Time: Sometimes your time is more valuable than any amount of money or things. In the wake of Sandy, a football team in Point Pleasant Beach New Jersey spent the day going around to local homes and helping people empty their houses of ruined belongings. The help brought smiles to the faces of people filled with sorrow and an overwhelming feeling of loss. Of course in a time of tragedy, it’s pretty easy to find people who need help, but at other times it’s important to remember there are people who can use help. From donating your time at a soup kitchen (and not just on Thanksgiving), to visiting neighbors who may be housebound or elderly, offering to help them will brighten their day, and most probably your own. Even simply taking the time to bring over a tray of food to share with an elderly neighbor will be an experience that you and your children will gain exponentially from, without really trying.

Donate Food: During the holiday season, there are a number of food drives. I would encourage you to take part in those. And, as parents looking for ways to raise our children more naturally, you can make an important impact by choosing the foods you would feed your own family—dye-free, organic and other foods that any family would appreciate and benefit from.

Donate Money: Many communities are accepting monetary donations to help rebuild their communities. In my particular town, there are a couple places to donate: Help Massapequa and at Pequa News.  I think most communities along the shoreline that were hard hit also have places where you can donate directly to the community, and then the money will be used to help those in need. Personally, I like donating to a particular community because then I know the money is being used for the cause I have in mind (in the case of these two I mentioned, for Hurricane Sandy victims). Some people may prefer to donate on a larger scale, and some options include the Salvation Army (mobile feeding units and shelters), World Vision (flood clean-up kits, personal hygiene items and emergency food kit distribution), Save the Children (providing relief to families and their children).

Open Your Doors: Many people who remain without electricity have no way to heat their homes, much less take a hot shower. They cannot cook food and many are relying on the kindness of others. While local towns have been wonderful about providing meals at local parks to their displaced residents, I’m sure it’s a very humbling experience for those who must accept. Many of these people are middle class, working folks. They don’t look for anyone to take care of them, and in times like this, it is a difficult thing to admit you need help and cannot do everything alone. I’ve seen an outpouring of people welcoming one another into their homes. Many people have several extra families staying in their homes, showering there, eating there and even doing their laundry there. This Thanksgiving, take the time and invite all of your friends to celebrate Thanksgiving with you.

With gas still in high-demand, friends and neighbors can take the opportunity to deviate from family traditions and create community traditions. Moving forward, Thanksgiving celebrations can be more local, certainly taking less of a toll on the environment by cutting down on fossil fuels. People might find themselves less stressed staying close to home and enjoying the company of their community—for Massapequa, that’s a community who has pulled together and survived under extreme and harsh conditions—not too dissimilar from those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast in America.

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