Natural disasters bring out the best and worst of humanity.
In a horrifying footnote to the Hurricane Sandy aftermath, several New York City homeowners devastated by the storm reported burglaries over Thanksgiving weekend. The pattern follows an overall rise in crime and looting this month in Queens and surrounding areas. According to the New York Post, there were 14 home break-ins from Nov. 12-18 in the Breezy Point area alone, compared to none during the same time period last year.
However, in many other cases, theft hasn’t happened because there’s been nothing worth stealing. Homes have been flooded or completely knocked off foundations.
As a longtime volunteer with New York Cares, nanny Beth Lehmann is doing her best to balance out the equation. For every stranger who tries to take advantage of the crisis, there’s another stranger reaching out with kindness. For the duration of the hurricane relief effort, Beth has been sorting and delivering donated food and supplies to disabled and elderly citizens who cannot otherwise access them. She also has been canvassing neighborhoods in Coney Island, Howard Beach and the Rockaways, talking to seniors about their medicinal needs.
“I found all these muscles I forgot I had,” says Beth, a 26-year career nanny who recently wrapped up a 10-year assignment with the same family. “It’s one thing to see the destruction on TV, but when you are physically there, you see the people and their emotions up close. You see houses tilted off their foundations and people scared to leave their homes because of looters. Their feelings become your feelings, It really drives home your compassion.”
“When you step into one of these neighborhoods, you can instantly smell the destruction,” she adds. “Words can’t describe the shock. It feels like I’m in a far away war zone, even though it’s a 20-25 minute drive from where I live. Most people in Manhattan have no idea about the full extent of the devastation.”
Beth is also the founder of Nannies Supporting Sandy Victims, an independent charity project aiming to distribute $250 cash gifts to random strangers demonstrating need. For the first stage of the project, she is hoping to raise $1,500 from fellow nannies and their families to fund six care packages. To date, she has raised $1,020.
“That might not sound like a lot of money to some people, but it’s a lot when you have nothing. I’ve always wanted to do this,” she says. “I love the idea of spreading random acts of kindness.”
Inside the blank cash envelope is a note that reads:
Hello,We know this isn’t much, but hope it will help you.Just spreading a bit of sunshine your way.A Random Act of Kindness.Love,
Nannies Supporting Sandy Victims
Beth determines which strangers are good candidates for the gift by listening to people’s stories that they share with her as a city volunteer. Like the TV show “Secret Millionaire,” her targets have no idea she is giving away money. The nanny has no timeline for giving away money, nor any upper limit, as that will depend on the level of donations. So far, she has given away one envelope — to a woman in the Rockaways who is going through dialysis treatment but has no place to bring her toddler during her appointments.
“She lost her daycare because of the floods,” Beth says. “Hopefully, this can cover her babysitting costs until they figure out a solution.”
“I walked away as she opened the envelope. She sat down on the floor and cried. I had tears in my eyes and walked out of the area. I spoke with her priest later and he was beyond thankful. The mom spoke to priest and had him relay the message that she blessed us and said we were ‘angels’ for doing what we did,” she adds.
“Some nannies have emailed me and said they want to donate money instead of exchanging gifts with each other this year. I also have some nanny agencies helping me spread the word. I’m hoping the whole nanny industry will rally around this idea,” Beth says.