What I Learned about Leadership from Sandy Relief Volunteering

First, let me say how incredibly excited I am to say that the younger generations are showing up to volunteer. I’ve been in the field working on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts twice now and those who are coming to help are in their teens, 20’s & 30’s.  Well done. This is very heartening.

Here’s what I’ve learned about Leadership

  1. Every little bit helps. No matter what you can do in service to helping those horribly effected, it is necessary and enough
  2. Look for the most helpful thing and do it. Find where you are most useful and effective. There is no one there telling you what to do in most cases. Find the thing that will have the greatest immediate impact for what needs to happen now.

Both times, I found myself with a team helping in food distribution in the Rockaways (NYC). The outreach and outpouring of donations is unbelievable.  Food is needed every day by people there who have nothing. When the truckloads of donations hit, the need for organizing is critical.

Yesterday, I found myself in a makeshift relief center at a church in Far Rockaway. I and four teenagers were dropped off by a volunteer driver with supplies. We unloaded and found ourselves faced with what do we do to help out.

I looked around. There was one empty table and bins, boxes and bags of canned goods and other foods sitting on top, underneath and to the sides. Immediately, I started the kids and I unpacking them and organizing in categories – beans, soups, tuna, veggies, fruit, rice, pasta, milk, water  – and putting signs up as labels on the wall.  Then the kids were enlisted with others as runners. They take orders from those who came in need of food and I help them fill the orders from the well-organized table.

One guy came to the table with a backpack and a box and a list. He needed food for an elderly woman who lives ten stories up in a high rise who can’t climb down and back up the stairs. She was a diabetic.  We selected from the categories and the offerings that which had the least sugar content. He was walking 8 blocks and up the 10 stories carrying this load plus two coats and a blanket.  How great is he!

Leadership is taking cues. It’s seeing the picture. It’s taking action. It knows that there are small things done that make a big difference. It’s acknowledging others for their contribution. It’s being grateful to serve.