A year ago, people across the U.S. watched in horrified awe as the images of Superstorm Sandy pummeling New York and New Jersey flashed across their TV screens. Water poured down the steps of subway stations and lifted homes off their foundations as fires blazed out of control in Breezy Point, New York.
I saw it all as I reported on Sandy’s devastation. It was awful to witness. But what I remember most are the faces of people hard-hit by Sandy’s fury.
Five-year-old Junior Gonzalez cried over a ruined backpack and school supplies. Omar English, told me how he tucked extra blankets around his fully-clothed children to keep them warm in their bitter cold apartment with no power.
But one face in particular stands out -- the tired, resigned, sad, but ultimately peaceful face of Linda Ugion.
Linda moved to Ohio in 2007 from Nigeria. Her husband had already come to the U.S.
After a few years and the birth of two special needs sons, they separated. Linda moved to Staten Island to be with a supportive Nigerian community.
Huddling in blankets, struggling to keep warm
Last November, she and her sons hunkered down under blankets wearing extra clothes in their small apartment to wait out the storm.
The morning dawned and her apartment was still intact; the floodwaters hadn’t reached them. For days after the storm, they stayed in the apartment without power. She and the boys huddled under blankets. She put five or six pairs of socks on them in a struggle to keep warm.
Friends brought food and urged them to go to the shelter, but because of her boys’ special needs going into a new, crowded environment like that presented them with obstacles not faced by a family with their challenges.
Even before the storm, Linda had struggled. Her degree in food science, earned in Nigeria, didn’t transfer to the United States. Her sons require fulltime care, and she can’t afford to pay a caretaker out of her $1,000 monthly Social Security check. Her rent is $1,100. She used to get child support from her husband, but in January those checks stopped coming.
“It doesn’t add up,” she says, her face registering weary resignation.
'Relief, lots of relief'
There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country like Linda who struggle to get through each day. The death of a breadwinner, loss of a job, or a catastrophic storm can send them deeper into poverty.
I met Linda a few months after the storm. World Vision was distributing blankets, sweaters, hygiene products, and even some toys for kids at United Church of Praise International Ministries Inc.
When she heard about the distribution at the church, she said she felt “relief, lots of relief. You’re just happy that some people are out there trying to help you. It brings love, joy to your spirit.”
With her sons at school, Linda came to help out at the distribution and pick up supplies. She smiled as she held up hand-knitted sweaters knowing they would keep both her sons and her warm.
She picked up handmade blankets collected by a girl named Ella in the Pacific Northwest who started a campaign to send warm blankets and comfort to New Yorkers.
But Linda’s whole being changed when a friend brought her son into the church. She hurried over to me to introduce him. Gone were any traces of tiredness or resignation. She radiated joy; the joy of a mother’s love.
And it is that face, not the faces of sadness and stress, but a face of tender joy and love that I see as I think back on Superstorm Sandy and the survivors I met.