Within two days of going back to school last week, Somers High School students had already printed fliers around school advertising a donations drive they were having for Hurricane Sandy victims.
By the end of the week, they had boxes of items that were donated to them and were getting ready for a trip to Far Rockaway this past Saturday to help with relief efforts.
"It shows we are a strong community and we really care about each other," said Wesley Cash, a freshman at the high school who was one of the students involved with the Sandy relief.
Benjamin Merker said he and Samantha Cucchirella – both Somers High School students – asked their principal Mark Bayer if they could organize the donations drive. Without hesitation Bayer agreed and even suggested the students go above and beyond by bringing the items directly to those in need.
"It was a really good response from the school," 15-year-old Merker said. "I don't think without [Bayer] we would have had such a big response."
Merker, who helped out at the Somers emergency shelter during the week of the Hurricane, said it was his mother's idea for the school to organize a donations drive. Event though Merker did not expect to collect as many items as the students did, he believed every little bit would help.
"Even if it was two toothbrushes, it's better than none," said Merker, who was able to get a local dentist to donate toothbrushes.
Bayer said there were 54 students, 7 staff members and 8 parents who – delivering items, serving lunch and helping with the clean up efforts – which included shoveling sand from the front yards of some residents.
Cash, 14, has volunteered in the past but never to that capacity of Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. He said he was eager to help people in the community during a time when they needed help the most.
"It felt good to take a level of stress off someone who is going through a rough time," said Cash, who said people were shoveling sand out of their driveways – or what was once their driveway – and a woman watched her house burn down from across the street.
Yet, what was most impressive was the way people handled the situation. Despite losing their homes, there was a sense of gratefulness among many of Far Rockaway's residents that they were still alive, Cash said.
"It was a great opportunity," he said. "I think it's important for everyone in our community, especially students, to give back at a time of need."
Jessica Shaw, 15, was also one of the students who went on the Sandy relief effort trip. She said she saw water mark lines along many of the houses – an indication of how high the water had gone. The devastation there was tremendous – houses were burned to the ground, a few picture frames were sticking out from under the rubble as an indication of what once stood there.
"It was eerie," Shaw said. "I overheard someone was looking for their [birth] certificate. I've never seen anything close to that capacity, to that devastation – houses completely burned down."
Shaw said she learned of a woman who wanted someone to help her save her books, another person began crying when she was given a toothbrush by one of the Somers students.
"The most simple things – a box of Oreos, a toothbrush and a book – can completely change someone's day or give them hope," she said.
Besides the Somers High School group, there were many other volunteers from various parts of the country who were pitching in, Shaw said. What left a lasting impression was how everyone was coming together and despite all the hardships, people were still nice to each other and appreciative of the help.
"Now I understand why people devote their lives to volunteering," Shaw said. "I learned so much. It was an experience I don't think I will ever forget. Being there and handing out the supplies...I encourage everyone to volunteer. It's a great thing."