It is alarming, even weeks after the superstorm, to see the images of devastation across the New York-New Jersey coastline. For many of us, Sandy’s wrath is a sobering reminder of our own frailty and vulnerability to Mother Nature’s immense power. Tropical Storm Irene of August 2011 crippled much of our state, costing tens of millions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure. In all, 225 out of Vermont’s 251 towns were directly impacted by the storm. The signs of its damage are still around us.
It is because of this unique perspective that so many Vermonters have been sympathetic to the struggles affecting New York, New Jersey and much of the eastern seaboard. The late-October storm spurred our citizens — many of whom were grateful for the help they received after Irene — to volunteer in order to reach out to Sandy’s victims.
There have been high-profile missions: Green Mountain Power and other utility companies deployed a small army of workers. Their work has helped clear streets of debris, repair downed wires and restore electricity. Many of those work crews have returned home with stories of grateful neighborhoods, new friendships, and freshly forged partnerships.
But there also has been an army of ordinary Vermonters taking action in amazing and inspiring ways.
Scores of Vermonters have brought non-perishable items and supplies to drop sites around the state, some of them hastily planned when a driver became available for a truck. Tons of food and supplies have been collected, and continue to be collected daily.
In Montpelier last Friday, one volunteer’s box truck was filled to capacity in fewer than three hours. He also packed (but did not pay for) his own fuel. It, too, was donated by generous benefactors. As he drove south, late comers to the impromptu donation rush coordinated another drop site for whoever might be making the next run.
At the annual Cabot Hosiery sock sale, one person is said to have purchased hundreds of dollars in socks — all of which were then donated and moved south.
Rotarians across Vermont organized drop points and transport for supplies. The West Pawlet Fire Department adopted a section of the Queens borough called Meadowmere, which is also served by a volunteer department that has close ties to the volunteers of tiny West Pawlet. The Vermonters are collecting supplies and planning runs to Queens for relief. And a New Jersey resident and his son this week found solace in the hills of Southern Vermont during the youth deer hunting weekend, leaving the chaos of post-storm pickup behind.
Families across the state have offered their homes to displaced families, as have hotels across the state. Churches and schools also are overseeing collection drives and fundraisers. The Stoweflake put up a family of six for free until electricity was restored to their neighborhood this week.
Social media — such as Facebook and Twitter — have made calls for needs very specific. And in many of those instances, the needs have been met. Vermonters would seem to have many ties to the affected region, and have become adept in just a few weeks at getting supplies where they need to be. That closeness, those degrees of separation we proudly use to define Vermont as “a small town,” seem to extend to one of the largest cities in the world.
The response here speaks volumes to our state’s commitment to others.
In an annual national survey, Vermont usually ranks among the most stingy in the United States. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in 2011 the most generous state was Utah, whose residents gave 10.6 percent of their discretionary income to charity. Next were Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina. The least generous was New Hampshire, at 2.5 percent, followed by Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
All evidence is to the contrary — at least in Sandy’s devastating wake.
Vermonters have stepped up at every level, from our government leaders sharing what we learned from Irene to our school children collecting pocket change and cashing in returnables for strangers hundreds of miles away.
These are tough economic times, especially on the heels of the series of unfortunate events that bruised and battered our tourism industry (all Mother Nature-related), yet once again we have shown our compassion for neighbors and stood proudly as part of the valuable support network needed to get through a difficult time.
That hardly feels stingy. Vermonters should be proud of the way they have opened their hearts to the victims of Sandy and made a difference.
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