My Mom had a friend named Sandy when I was a kid growing up. I remember a warmth and friendliness and cake. Shag carpets were involved in visiting her home and I vaguely remember a shaggy dog too. But the Sandy of 2012 was anything like those clouded memories. This Sandy sticks around, and she wasn't very nice and she ruined all the shag carpets.
A lot of folks think it was 'very noble', 'a terrific thing', 'heroes work', etc. with what we did in the days that followed hurricane Sandy. It wasn't. Believe us. What we did was just being a citizen. We're all supposed to be more committed to this thing called democracy than many of us seem to be. We all have our fits and starts, it's hard to stay tuned or plugged into it all. It hurts. There are many questions, all of them hard, and it is a risky thing to get involved. A lot of people tell you to mind your own business, to stick to your own path and take care of number one. You might be ridiculed. You might be ignored. You may fail. All of this is true. But if you don't try, who will?
I think it was 1998. I was at a crossroads at my life. I'd graduated college, the first male in my direct family line to do so. It didn't seem like a big thing. I still hadn't a clue what I wanted to do. I was 24. I drove to the Army/Air Force recruiter. It wasn't the first time. I'd aced the ASVAP a few weeks prior and had my choice of officer careers. Or so the recruiters led me to believe. I've since heard that they often dangle these fantasies of opportunity in front of you that are wont to appear once you sign up. I have no personal experience with that. I decided against it.
Defending my country seemed a misplaced idea, rather supporting my country seemed like a better fit. I'd had a few friends that had been through a few Americorps programs and they all seemed really excited about their futures and the work they did, so I set out for the offices of City Year San Antonio. Those were whirlwind years and much too much happened to talk about here, but I think it's important to understand the place that our actions as a company come from.
City Year has a very specific culture. They celebrate diversity. They focus on 'can do attitudes' and have founding stories. They create leaders and hone leadership qualities. They planted a seed in my brain that makes helping others a knee jerk response, it's not extraordinary, its ordinary. It's what a citizen does.
So as citizens we did what we could. As a mobile vendor we knew it was easy for us to set up and cook food, plus we had a lot of inventory left from the slow weekend. We mentioned it to Robert LaValva and within a few days we were down at the seaport feeding folks whose livelihoods had been torn asunder. Many of the folks had been working for seven days straight, throwing away their homes and businesses, ruined by the overflowing banks of the river. You can still go down there today, it's been almost two months and the majority of buildings and businesses remain shuttered.
Aaron Cohen saw our tweet and then loads of re-tweets about us serving up hot food and asked if we'd be interested in raising money from his Twitter followers in Boston. We agreed, and within four hours of launching the fundraiser we'd raised enough to do it another day. And as we've written about before, thanks to Allison Robicelli's fingers being on the pulse of South Brooklyn, we were able to find a place and head out within a few days. The devastation down there was soundless. Many walked the streets aimlessly - perhaps hungry, perhaps just to keep themselves warm. Our friends helped us dish out as much food as we could and we headed back to our cosy unbattered homes on higher ground. It wasn't enough. It couldn't possibly be enough. The scale was just tipped too far over.
A few days after the storm I remembered I hadn't heard anything about La NewYorkina, Fany Gerson's business, so I emailed her. She was still abroad on a long-ago planned trip and she had no idea what awaited her back home. She knew there had been a storm, but she hadn't a clue what the impact would be on her livelihood. When I saw her at the market a few weeks ago I asked about the damage. Her eyes were tired and momentarily filled with hopelessness. She hadn't even had a second to account for it all - she saw that all her inventory was garbage, her production machines were ruined, and estimated losses in the $60,000 range and possibly more. If you haven't met her or had any of her sweets you should, she is sweeter than any of her sweets and warmer than any of her hot chocolate.
We attended a holiday "cookie swap" and I used a recipe of hers from her book 'My Sweet Mexico' in tribute to her. I made a variation of my favorite 'Besitos' and people seemed to enjoy them. A few days later we launched our online store, and it got me thinking, you know, this is so easy that we could do a little something for Fany too. We posted my 'Besitos Picantes' on the store and have started selling a few in trickles and waves. Our starfish story, we hope. Some other chefs have taken note and hopefully a larger effort is forming to help her out. If you are interested in lending her a hand, you can purchase them online and we'll write her a check at the end of the month from the proceeds of the sales which we'll continue into the new year.
Because the impacts of Sandy aren't over for her as they aren't for many others - but as citizens we can help each other come together and support those in need, in whatever way we can.