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Students Spend Spring Break Offering Hurricane Relief

University of Redlands students help with relief efforts in Breezy Point, NY

University of Redlands students help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in Breezy Point, NY.

Instead of heading to a warm beach or the cozy confines of their hometown, 20 University of Redlands students spent their spring break in New York to help with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

“We usually decide in September or October where we are going to go, and look at different opportunities,” said Erin Sanborn, associate director of Community Service Learning. “When Hurricane Sandy hit, it just kind of seemed like things were coming together to go there.”

The group, which included Sanborn and two other staff members, spent February 24 through March 2 working in Breezy Point, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. They stayed at the Christ Community Church, where they slept on cots and lived without running water.

“We really were in it 24/7,” Sanborn said. “The church we stayed at had been wiped out and had been halfway rebuilt.”

The group worked in Breezy Point and the nearby Rockaways, which were devastated when they were hit by Hurricane Sandy in late October. Sitting where Jamaica Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, the neighborhoods were underwater, and late on October 29, a six-alarm fire broke out on Oceanside Avenue in Breezy Point. More than 100 homes were destroyed and 20 were damaged.

The students removed debris from walkways, homes and streets; installed insulation and sheetrock in houses and a future volunteer accommodation center; delivered building supplies to areas; leveled decks that had been washed off of foundations; removed old and moldy sheetrock and insulation; installed and repaired floors; and demoed houses.

“For me, I was kind of caught off guard by how bad things still are back there,” Sanborn said. “I knew some of the recovery would be slow because of severe winter storms, but I felt like it was so hard to find areas that hadn’t been impacted. We were on Long Island, on a peninsula, and there wasn’t anywhere you went that you could kind of get away from it.”

Spending the week hard at work helping rebuild a community brought the students together, Sanborn said, and opened their eyes to what had happened last October.

“By the end of the week, I think we had an authentic experience of what people had been going through,” she said. “A man said to us, ‘This was your life for a few days; it’s been ours for five months.”


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