George Washington University had hardly returned to normal operations when students decided they needed to do something to help the victims of the debilitating superstorm Hurricane Sandy.
“On Wednesday morning when we came back to work—first thing, at 9 o’clock—students from all across campus met to talk about what the university community could do to help,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “They really wanted to strike while the iron was hot.”
The group of about 20 students founded “GW Responds: Sandy Relief,” a four-pronged effort that will include blood drives, a fundraising campaign, a food and supply drive and service in affected communities. Today, they launched the campaign’s website, where the university community can learn more about each effort and donate.
“Students agreed that we need to give back in as many ways as possible,” said Tim Savoy, a presidential administrative fellow in the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “This notion of multidimensional giving has spurred students to create several campaigns that will provide relief to the affected areas.”
- Blood drive
Students kicked things off last Tuesday with a fully booked blood drive with the Red Cross, filling the void after hundreds of blood drives were canceled due to the storm, Mr. Savoy said. Given the overwhelming response, they hope to host another soon; however, students can also just walk a few blocks to the Red Cross headquarters, 2025 E St., NW, and donate on their own.
That same Tuesday, students staffed a table outside election night watch parties to begin their fundraising campaign, and many took notice—including alumna and “Scandal” actress Kerry Washington, B.A. ’98, who retweeted a call to action to donate.
Over the weekend, the fundraising continued during the women’s and men’s basketball home openers at the Charles E. Smith Center. As fans filed in on Friday and Saturday, student-athletes collected donations, raising $123.
All contributions—GW Responds hopes to raise $25,000—will be donated to Adopt-A-Classroom, a nonprofit that helps teachers purchase materials for their classrooms. Adopt-A-Classroom will work with GW Responds to identify the schools hit hardest by Sandy. To donate, visit GW Responds’ website.
- Food and supply drive
For those who want to donate food and supplies, GW Responds has a list of needed toiletries and food. Donations should be taken to GW Hillel, 2300 H St., NW. Every two weeks, volunteers will deliver the donations to sites in New York and New Jersey. Currently, supplies collected will benefit the Pinelands Junior High School emergency shelter, which houses residents of Seaside Heights, a community that was 80 percent destroyed by Sandy. Food donations will benefit the Community FoodBank of New Jersey’s Southern Branch to help residents of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and parts of Burlington counties.
- Service trips
Relief trips to New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia are also forthcoming. GW Responds asks community members to fill out this interest form to be selected for a trip through a lottery system. Participating members would fund their own way, which will likely be around $50 a person.
Students said that the fact that Sandy has hit so close to home—or literally hit home for some in the GW community—makes this effort particularly important to them.
“Each of us involved hail from different places—some from affected areas, others not—and pursue varying interests outside of GW Responds,” said international affairs senior Joanne O’Sullivan, who is leading the supply drive and helping plan service trips. “However, we’re united in our desire to help those affected by Sandy, especially since so many GW students grew up in New York and New Jersey.”
Realizing the sheer amount of destruction Sandy caused also hit students hard.
“It really just broke my heart to see all the destruction and damage, and I wanted to help,” said international affairs senior Rachel Krausman, who is also a co-president of Active Minds. Ms. Krausman, who grew up in Florida, said she knows how damaging hurricanes can be, especially for areas unfamiliar with them.
Freshman Oz Fishman, who is working on marketing and communications for GW Responds, said George Washington students in particular can help effect change in Sandy’s wake.
“This initiative was conceived by GW students, built by GW students, and will be championed by GW students,” Mr. Fishman said. “We study at the heartbeat of the nation, with the most significant developments of our generation unfolding under our noses. We’ve got every resource at our disposal to make the world the best place it can possibly be—and it’s our obligation to do just that.”
The fact that service is engrained in George Washington students’ minds is also important.
“I think that GW students have a different worldview,” said senior Lauren Shenfeld, the executive chair of Program Board who has been working on marketing, outreach and donation efforts. “They’re not just advocates, but also activists. When you have an idea about how you are going to better the world and make an impact in a community, students around you encourage your plans and ask how they, too, can be involved. Service is a standard among GW students.”
In creating GW Responds, students are also thinking about the long term. They want the newly established group to mobilize in support of future relief efforts when disaster strikes.
“I really hope GW Responds can grow into something that harnesses all our strengths from service to academics to graduate students and community relations,” Ms. Krausman said. “Disaster response is such a messy world but we definitely have the ability to help out in a big way and I think the past week of rapid and effective student work shows that we can do huge things.”
Right now, though, students need help for their Sandy campaign.
“GW Responds is a grassroots effort—mass student, alumni, faculty and staff investment will be necessary to make GW’s campaign to provide relief to those communities affected by Sandy a success,” Ms. Shenfeld said.
Visit the GW Responds website here.