Catskills Relief Trip - Sept. 30 - Oct. 3, 2011

by Deb Mayes, Technology Services staff assistant

Welcome to fall in the Catskill region of New York State…a time for explosive colors and harvesting crops in preparation for winter. Unexpectedly this year, the area experienced the devastation of Hurricane Irene. Since the waters receded, affected communities have seen dramatic volunteer numbers work on homes with fervor as the temperatures begin to drop and the reality of an upcoming winter season sets in.

Catskills relief groupOur Alfred State team joined the effort on a cold, rainy Friday night. As we reached the foothills and started winding our way through the Catskill Mountains, we felt transported into a classic Halloween movie; dark windy roads, spooky old cemetery, rain and fog, even the Garmin wondered about our final destination.

Our group of seven ASC students had signed on with the All Hands Organization http://hands.org to assist in the cleanup efforts of Hurricane Irene. The Garmin found our way to base camp, a church in the town of Middleburgh, NY. Along with a group of four volunteers from NYC, we unpacked and took up residence on the cots provided by the Red Cross. We curled up in our sleeping bags to get ready for our first experience at mucking!

We were awakened the first morning by every alarm that was set the night before (maybe 10) and departed at 7:30 a.m. That is correct, this was no vacation! Arriving at our first job site in the town of Schoharie, we were shown a large, two-story dwelling which appeared to be vacant along with the rest of the neighborhood. The owner joined us with a backhoe and container to haul debris. Our job involved tearing out sheet rock, bagging insulation, completely gutting the kitchen (stove, fridge, sink, dishwasher), and hauling it all street side for pickup. The kitchen area had a two inch layer of river sludge (muck) which coated everything from the top shelves of the cabinets to the pans in the oven. We worked until well after noon.

Lunch time arrived. We were directed down the street to a church where local residents had set up an awesome hot lunch under some tents. We were served the biggest pork chops I’ve ever seen cooked on the grill. We sat with the locals who noticed our Alfred State apparel and discovered one woman had graduated from the horticulture program in the 90s. A discussion ensued on faculty and programs still available at ASC. They were very appreciative of us giving up a weekend to help out. With full stomachs, it was back to work.

Back at the site the chain saw appeared (in competent hands). Cabinets and shelving were cut into pieces, pulled off walls, and hauled out. Hardwood floors had to be pulled up and de-nailed. The owner dug a ditch to allow water out of the basement. Under the water was a layer of river sludge to be removed. As we drug all our debris to the curb, it really started raining. By the time our job was called at 5 p.m. we were cold, wet, and exhausted. We headed back to camp to shower, eat dinner at a church next door, and had our mandatory group meeting at 7 p.m. There was a group “shout out” (special recognition) to Paul from our team leader, new title, Sump Pump Directory. Several of our hardy muckers had the energy to visit one of the local establishments that evening to master the art of Contra Dancing; I’m told this is the Canadian version of our square dancing.

Catskills relief - basement muckWe all overslept Sunday morning; oh well, we hadn’t expected raises anyway! This day took us to Prattsville, NY. We drove to a 1800s abandoned hotel which was recently bought by an “out of towner”. Before the flood he had purchased a large quantity of lumber to start a renovation project to the building. The flood hit, he lost all the lumber, and had to be notified of the disaster in the area. My understanding was he contacted All Hands for assistance. Prova, Jess, and myself volunteered for the basement mucking. Being as the process is removing mud from a mud floor, we weren’t sure when the job was complete. Our team leader from All Hands would check our progress every 30 minutes and say, “OK, maybe 30 more minutes” for three hours! Paul, hauling muck filled buckets up and down stairs, removed a 20 foot pipe that was hanging from the ceiling with his very own frontal lobe.

Upstairs Ricardo, Yoelvin, and Tom pulled ancient hard wood floors off of even more ancient hard wood floors. Then pulled the four inch nails left behind in the original hand hewn floor. Zinta hauled lumber out to the six-foot debris pile in front of the house. We finished at 2:30 p.m. and thought we were getting an early reprieve, not! Onto the next project! On route we pulled over several times to take pictures of damaged properties. At the next house our crew had already left, so we were allowed to head back to our camp where the people from the church had our hot dinner waiting for us. It’s the small things in life!

My hat is off to the seven students who volunteered their mini-break to help others in need. It shows me these guys have more than what it takes to succeed in their journey in life. Yes, a college education is so important. However, to be able to grasp the concept of giving back is an added bonus to the college experience. They’ve asked me to let them know when the opportunity presents itself again, and they will be my first contacts!