January 7, 2013 | College of Staten Island
As the weeks since Superstorm Sandy have passed, we have heard many stories of tragedy, bravery, and charity on our campus and in our communities.
Many members of CSI’s faculty, staff, and student body are continuing their efforts to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy any way they can.
One such student is Christian Spears, who in the wake of such a terrible natural disaster decided to take it upon himself to begin his own volunteer group called Staten Island Friends Together (SIFT) to help those who were greatly affected by Sandy.
Spears, a sophomore Political Science major at CSI, took a look around Staten Island the day after Sandy struck and decided to start his own grassroots organization to help demolish homes that were terribly damaged by Sandy in order to expedite the rebuilding efforts.
“It was complete [destruction],” said the 19-year-old about Tottenville, the first neighborhood he checked. Not only was he commenting on the devastation brought about by the storm, he was also disappointed with the early relief efforts. “It was very unorganized, no one knew where to go, what to do.”
Spears then spoke with the sanitation workers and police officers on the scene, and using their pointers, he formed SIFT two days later with a few friends from the College and the neighborhood, namely, Jason Newman, Anthony Natale, and Daniel Savage, with his father, Mitchell.
“It was word-of-mouth for a couple of days because I didn’t have power,” said Spears, discussing how he transformed his idea into reality. “Once the power came back on, social media has had a huge impact.” And what an impact it was–to date, Spears has counted that approximately 350 individual volunteers joined SIFT at one time or another.
“The first weekend we had 217 volunteers,” he said. “It was such a huge accomplishment for everyone involved.” The large group met on the intersection of Manhattan and Billop and they went house to house asking anyone if they needed assistance. The group mostly took care of the demolition and clean-up work, aiding single mothers and the elderly who would not have been able to accomplish the clean up without support. “We have worked on over 450 houses so far,” said Spears of the progress that SIFT has made.
Carol Brower, Director of Student Life, responded to the work Christian has done so far. “The drive and commitment that he made to make a difference will be remembered for a very long time. CSI is very proud of him and all our students who understand the importance of “giving back.”
Spears, who has had no construction experience to speak of before this, used his Web-savvy and charisma to organize the volunteers. He set up a Website where volunteers could track the group’s progress via blogs, photos, and even videos of volunteers working on homes, but more importantly, check where and when future organized clean ups were occurring.
The group has never accepted any payment for the work they did and Spears has plans to turn SIFT into a not-for-profit in the near future. SIFT has subsisted mostly on the donations of its members and of those looking to help like the Arden Heights Jewish Center which donated $1,000 for supplies.
While the creation of SIFT alone is enough to count as a success story, Spears is wholly proud of the fact that the group was able to get the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) building in working order. “It was under nine feet of water [and] in a week we had it up and running and serving as a drop-off spot for people who wanted to donate items.”
Spears doesn’t plan on stopping once the clean up is complete. The second step in his plan is to raise funds for the victims to help pay for their rebuilding efforts. He also plans on attending seminars and workshops to learn how the re-build the homes in the spring.
“This is something that has definitely impacted my life for the better,” said Spears of his experience running a volunteer organization. He also said that he would like to go into local politics or emergency management after graduation. “Seeing this disaster from so many angles makes me feel like I can become a community leader so I can take what I have been learning from this and apply it to future emergencies we may have.”
For more information about SIFT or if you want to volunteer please visit the group’s Website. You can also contact Christian Spears via his Facebook page or call 718.915.3715.
Christian Spears graduated from St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School. He is majoring in Political Science at the College of Staten Island.