Volunteered at Hurricane Irene Shelters – Baruch College and Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan

I have received an email from New York Cares – a call to help out people at different Hurricane Irene shelters throughout the city. I decided to go to Baruch College shelter as it is around 1.5 miles from my place.
I went to Baruch College Shelter around 1:50 p.m. and after a few minutes waiting I was assigned the job of registering the volunteers and the clients (people coming into the shelter seeking help) into the online system. Some people were assigned the job of taking the demographic information from the clients (name, age, sex, address, profession, health related problems etc) and to fill out the forms and I was assigned to enter the information into the online system.

But then all the volunteers were told that there was another shelter being opened up in Norman Thomas High School (NTHS) at Park Ave and 33rd St. and I moved to NTHS as they need some IT people to set up the computers at that shelter, so I volunteered to go there. We were 12 volunteers and we were transported to that shelter in a school bus. By the time we reached there, all the supplies – food, cots, medicines and the staff (staff from that particular school, and also few staff from Department of Education (DOE), New York) were ready. We walked through the whole school (I guess it was 9 floors) to decide on the rooms for various purposes – rooms for inmates – different rooms for single men, single women, and for families, rooms for pets, room for medical emergency (medical supplies were also there). And also to check for the rooms without windows to minimize the impact from windows. There were already fifty beds setup in the gym room and since there was no AC in those rooms, huge fans were set up. Few people were already checked-in by the time we reached the school. Some beds were already placed on the stage of the auditorium.

Our team-manager was very efficient. While we were travelling to NTHS from Baruch, she has assigned the jobs to each and every individual in her group. I and another person were assigned to take care of IT needs. Three computers were already set up for this purpose but some how we had a hard time logging into the Windows (with the user name and password assigned to those computers). After some struggle, by trying to reach out for the DOE staff, we were finally able to log into the system. Everyone in our group was given a walkie-talkie to communicate with people at different locations in the building. And we made a list of all our volunteers – names and mobile numbers and made sure everyone had a copy of it.

The procedure was once the clients entered into the building, they were guided to the school auditorium on the 2nd floor where 2 to 3 volunteers tried to fill out the forms from the information they could gather from the clients and the clients were being asked to sit in the auditorium until the dinner time which was scheduled at 7:30 p.m. And there were cooks (I am not sure whether they belong to school or from other source) who cooked hot meals and the dinner was served in the school cafeteria which was situated on 6th floor. After the dinner, who ever wish to rest were diverted to the 9th floor where the cots were set up in few rooms. Some of our volunteers helped move the boxes around, especially all the boxes – beds, sheets, medical supplies and some other supplies like body lotions, mouth fresheners etc are kept at the first level and were moved to different floors. They have also unpacked those boxes.

We had two IT specialists (I and another Spanish speaking person – language is also an important factor to communicate with clients), an animal specialist, a registered nurse, building construction engineer in our team.

I have almost entered the information of around 70 people into the system. I have stayed until around 9 p.m. and returned home. Another fact that really touched me was before I was leaving my team-manager asked me to give her a call as soon as I reached home to make sure that I reached home safely. She herself was so tired as she might have been working for almost 9 to 10 hours by that time and all the walking she has been doing throughout the different floors of the building. I was really moved by that gesture. Another thing I noticed was all the volunteers were so patiently helping people around with a smile on their face.

Thank you once again New York Cares for sending me the email and giving me an opportunity to do whatever I could do. This is the first time I was involved in this type of project and I have learnt many many variables involved in the whole procedure and was able to meet some fabulous people who came together to work for a cause. It is really a feel good experience and I wish I worked for the government.

5 thoughts on “Volunteered at Hurricane Irene Shelters – Baruch College and Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan

  1. SA you make us all rethink about our goals and priorities. You are a ‘Da vinci in our family’ with so many skills.

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