More than three months after Superstorm Sandy struck the tri-state area with a vengeance, countless NYSUT members are struggling to put their lives back together — still mourning the loss of loved ones; still managing the daily challenges of repairing their homes; still navigating the complex world of insurance and FEMA; and still coping with the reality that, for many, recovery will be measured in years rather than weeks.
NYSUT is calling on all locals to lend those in need a helping hand by participating in "Throw out the Lifeline," a union-wide campaign to raise $250,000 in 25 days for the NYSUT Disaster Relief Fund.
The initiative runs Feb. 4-28.
"These are our union sisters and brothers, and although several months have passed since Superstorm Sandy, many are still suffering," said NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue, who heads the union's relief efforts in partnership with NYSUT Secretary- Treasurer Lee Cutler.
Requests for assistance have placed an unprecedented demand on the union's Disaster Relief Fund. NYSUT's "Throw out the Lifeline," campaign asks all locals to host simple, locally based fundraising events throughout February to raise money for the fund. A goal is to have each local raise and contribute at least $1 per member.
Locals can take advantage of NYSUT's online toolkit to help plan fundraisers. The kit includes downloadable ads for newsletters, fact sheets explaining the initiative and print ready "Throw out the Lifeline" materials locals can use at fundraising events.
"Sandy's scope of devastation was so widespread that it's going to take all of us pulling together to help victims recover from the storm," said Donahue.
The campaign launch coincides with the start of National School Counseling Week to underscore the importance of school counselors and other mental health professionals in helping storm victims, including students, parents and community members.
"With the holidays behind us, the reality of the storm's effects are likely hitting victims and their families hard," said Donahue. "Depression, and feelings of hopelessness and being overwhelmed, are common."
In the New York metropolitan area, an estimated 600 members are still homeless. Countless others are living in homes with ripped-out walls and floors, damaged wiring and heating systems, and ruined household appliances, all while dealing with the loss of irreplaceable family mementos.
The sheer scale of destruction in many communities makes recovery a slow-go.
Delays in insurance reimbursement have left many in limbo, unable to start reconstruction due to uncertainty over the amount their policies will cover. Compounding headaches is the requirement that individuals first file claims and be reimbursed through their insurance company before applying for FEMA assistance to avoid receiving duplicate aid.
"We are aware and appreciative of the enormous amount of money contributed up to this point," said Cutler. "But, we are also painfully aware that the need is greater than ever — this was no ordinary storm.
"I encourage every local to get involved with this vital campaign," he continued. "When disaster strikes, few things are more comforting than a helping hand. And right now, a helping hand is desperately needed for people recovering from Superstorm Sandy — please help us answer their call."