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During Hurricane Sandy, a Chevy Express loaded up with free cell phone chargers taught old friends what it really means to be connected

By Stephanie Georgopulos

 

On October 29, 2012, the largest Atlantic storm on record struck New York City. Suffice to say that despite all the warnings, I wasn’t prepared for the extent to which it would affect my life for the next month.

What came after Hurricane Sandy’s initial landfall in New York was chaotic and frightening. Areas that I grew up in were without power for weeks on end. One friend saw a neighbor’s house simply float out to sea. Necessities taken for granted—heat, clean water, shelter—were no longer a given. For a brief moment, no one knew what was going to happen next.

I’ve lived in Southern New York for most of my life, so it seemed everyone I grew up with was affected by the storm in some way. There was no shortage of friends in need. And suddenly, I couldn’t get in contact with them anymore. Cut off from power, many of the victims were virtually unreachable. At a time when I needed social media and technology the most, Sandy made communication impossible.

But that’s when my friend B., who lives in San Francisco, got in touch with me. He’s a natural-born entrepreneur and small-business owner who I was drawn to in college for his crazy ideas and willingness to take risks.

I got a text from him: “Hey Steph. U ok? Checking in.” I quickly texted back that I was fine, and that, luckily, I was living in an area of Brooklyn that wasn’t significantly affected by the storm. Then, to my surprise, he called me.

“I just started this company,” he began, “and I think I can do something to help you guys out over there.” Big surprise it was not—since I’ve known B., he must’ve started at least ten companies.

B.’s latest venture specialized in manufacturing solar-powered cell phone chargers, which he wanted to deliver to the areas hit hardest by the hurricane. Problem was, the relief organizations he’d contacted to distribute the chargers were overwhelmed with their own operations. It wasn’t within their capacity to take on another project.

Never one to take no for an answer, B. told me that he’d decided to do what any logical man would do—fill his Chevy Express to the brim with solar-powered cell phone chargers and drive across the country to New York and New Jersey to distribute them himself.

“Just one thing,” he said, “Do you know your way around Brooklyn and Jersey?”

A few days later, B. showed up at my doorstep, ready for business.

We hopped in the Express and drove from Brooklyn to Staten Island. The devastation was incomprehensible—the mood in the car became somber immediately after we crossed over the bridge to Staten Island. Thick trees blocked the roads, wires hung loosely from their poles, broken furniture littered front yards. It was much worse than any photograph could depict.

After surveying the area, we pulled over in one of the most hard-hit neighborhoods, opened up the back doors of the cargo van, and put out a sign B. had made: “Friends, charge your cell phones here”

The response was immediate. Mothers, fathers and children came by, all so grateful that it brought tears to my eyes. And it seemed that most didn’t even come for the chargers—they lingered around the van well after picking them up, asking B. about his business, talking to their neighbors.

For all that we gave that day, we got multitudes back in return. We not only helped a great number of people get in touch with their loved ones, but we learned a good deal about community as well. Who knew something as seemingly insignificant as a phone charger could bring so many people together? I guess it really is the little things that count.

Stephanie Georgopulos is an editor at Thought Catalog. Her work has been featured on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Awl, Gizmodo, The Next Web, Refinery 29 and elsewhere. Email her at Stephanie@thoughtcatalog.com.