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UMass Hillel volunteers aid N.Y. Hurricane Sandy relief efforts

Courtesy of Dori Robinson

Three months after Hurricane Sandy devastated regions of the Caribbean, mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast, relief efforts are still ongoing. Last Sunday, volunteers from the University of Massachusetts aided in these efforts first hand.

“There’s more (effort needed) than you realize,” said Dori Robinson, assistant director for programming at Hillel House. “You could just see the people and just see the need and it was so tangible. It was something we had to step up and do.”

Freshman Dasha Zhadanovsky, who is currently a community service intern at the Hillel House, volunteered last Sunday.

“People got hit so hard. People are still suffering,” Zhadanovsky said.

Setting out in a rented van from Amherst at 6 a.m., seven students and two UMass alumni traveled to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., to work on clearing out the basement of seafront property that had been filled up to the ceiling with sand deposited from storm flooding.

Robinson said there was “no entry into this place whatsoever” before the UMass volunteers got to digging out the basement alongside the homeowner.

“He lost everything, 100 percent everything,” Robinson said of John, whose last name she didn’t know, the homeowner who formerly ran his bicycle repair business from his house.

“His whole life was destroyed because of Hurricane Sandy,” Zhadanovsky said.

Robinson said volunteers worked for five hours clearing “really wet, dense sand covering tons of materials and things.”

“It was really intense,” she said, adding that volunteers wore masks as well as protective mesh suits covering their bodies from head to toe because “so many things had gotten combined,” including dead animals and household chemicals.

By the end of the day, however, the basement was completely cleared of sand and debris.

“I was so tired by the end of it. It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Zhadanovsky said. “Just knowing we made that big of a difference in someone’s life … it was really incredible to give back.”

It was “really wonderful to be able to literally see the work we had done and the difference we had made,” Robinson said of clearing the sand.

The volunteers brought their own food and water resources for the day-long trip, as such resources are still hard to come by in severely affected regions, Robinson said.

The trip was funded entirely by the Hillel House. Robinson said their annual “Ride to Provide” event covers community service projects throughout the year.

Robinson said that the Hillel House plans on continuing different community service efforts every Sunday in March. For more information on these opportunities, visit

Current Hillel volunteers, Robinson said, act off the Hebrew phrase “Tikkum Olam,” meaning “repairing the world.”

In this case, she said, it was through community service “to help people and make the world a better place.”

Chelsie Field can be reached at

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