Marcie Allen is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership she demonstrated in her involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.
When I moved to New York City three years ago, it was to make some big changes in my life personally and professionally. I have always believed that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. It did not take long for New York to feel like home, even though I am a southerner from Nashville, TN. The city has been described thousands of times in millions of ways. Poets have dedicated entire odes to my adopted hometown. Ambition rises like morning fog in New York. It rides the subways. It is everywhere. New Yorkers are the resilient ones. At a time when I needed to borrow some of that resilience from New York, it shared it freely with me. It helped me rebuild and gave me the energy and confidence to take healthy risks and dream big as an individual and as an entrepreneur.
I was stranded in Nashville during a family visit when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc upon New York and the Rockaway peninsula. I remember watching the television as the storm mass roiled directly towards New York. I wondered aloud to some friends if it was, in fact, as massive as it looked. That is when Mayor Bloomberg announced the closure of the subways for the first time since 9/11. That is when the nation seemed to collectively know we were up against something serious.
Needless to say, I could sense that families needed immediate help. Grassroot efforts were needed. People were literally removing the remnants of the ocean from their homes by hand with buckets. My first stop when I landed in New York was to pick up cans of gas, cases of water and hot pizzas. Manhattan was back up and running for the most part. No power for the Rockaways meant no heat, lights, cell charging, or food. Cars had become floating ramrods of steel in the storm. Transportation was a moot point for the families there. Gas lines were measured by hours- not people. Full gas cans for powering generators were sloshing around in the backseat as I set my GPS to navigate to the street in distress, Beach 119th Street, in the Rockaways.
The blue-collar community of The Rockaways is populated by many of the firefighters and EMT’S who would ordinarily be responding to emergencies elsewhere. After Hurricane Sandy, their work came to them-- unending, back-breaking, tear-jerking work. I knew I had to help. New York had helped me. Now, it was my turn to help New York.
The minute I showed up, I was greeted with hugs from strangers who immediately felt like family. Families were in distress. From sunrise to sundown, Jessica Beutler (my friend and colleague) and I went back each day. How could we not? As our team of volunteers walked down Beach 119 to pass out hot breakfast, generators or gasoline to those who have lost everything, storm victims actually paused to say, “ Are you sure that you don’t want to give this to someone who needs it more?” Neighbors have been loaning out temporary car rentals out like community transportation vehicles so that everyone can get what they need. Many had no winter clothing. Anything that was stored in the lower level of the homes was gone. But as pockets of help arrived with coffee, food, cleaning supplies, and medicine, you could tell that their hope was not gone. It was alive and well.
Within days, our crew was dubbed The Beach 119 Angels by the residents of the area with whom we exchanged morning hugs and cups of warm coffee before we rolled up our sleeves for a day of doing what needed to be done. Sometimes, we secured storage units for families and purchased supplies at the local Home Depot. Other days, we wiped art collections free of mud and hung them to dry.
We recently filmed a documentary short about a few families on Beach 119. You can visit our website at www.beach119.com.
To date, we have raised over $100,000 in Home Depot gift cards, food and supply donations for the families of Beach 119, and for Thanksgiving, we delivered over 500 Boston Market hot meals door to door.
Most importantly, our work in the Rockaways is not done. The rebuilding is still a work in progress.
Marcie Allen is the president of MAC Presents, a New York City-based sponsorship and fulfillment agency.