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Fordham Law Students Aid Sandy Relief Efforts

Submitted by on February 5 – 2013No Comment
Photo Courtesy of Prescott Loveland

Photo Courtesy of Prescott Loveland

When Hurricane Sandy hit, it didn’t take long for Fordham Law students to jump into action.

Even during the storm, student Prescott Loveland was driving back and forth between Fordham and his seaside hometown of Brick, New Jersey distributing donated goods, documenting the devastation, and hunting down gas. Meanwhile, student leaders from the Stein Scholars public interest program and the Disaster Relief Network (DRN) like Rebecca Iwerks, Alexandra Berke, and Lauren Lombardo began publicizing volunteer opportunities and planning relief work that still continues to expand throughout the Fordham Law community.

One of the first projects was the collection drive held outside of the Public Interest Resource Center (PIRC). Thanks to the generosity of the Fordham Law community, Loveland said he was able to haul about 20 bags of warm clothes, toys, food, and other goods back to his hometown.

Following the collection drive, Iwerks, Berke, and Lombardo led a group of alumni, students, and faculty that helped staff legal clinics in the devastated areas of Breezy Point and Broad Channel on November 17 and 18. The clinic volunteers set up tables around the community to answer a variety of questions about available aid, and to assess the legal needs of Sandy victims.

Fordham Law students also partnered with Legal Services NYC over winter break to conduct surveys of Sandy victims across the city. The purpose of these surveys, as Berke and Lombardo explained, was to figure out the needs of the community. Surveyors asked Sandy victims about food stamps, disaster unemployment insurance, FEMA applications and aid, home and medical insurance claims, rental abatement, and even their schooling and transportation situation since the storm.

Lombardo emphasized the importance of community outreach components of the legal clinic and survey projects.

“DRN has been working in New Orleans since Katrina and Haiti since the earthquake, so now that a disaster has hit so close to home it was important for us to serve our own community as well,” she said.

Students also successfully campaigned to have the school offer a Disaster Relief course taught by Adjunct Professor Hazel Weiser. PIRC Director of Student Organizations and Publicity Hillary Exter, who has been instrumental in coordinating relief efforts with students and getting the new class approved, said Weiser has a varied background in public service and was very eager to teach the class when approached. The class includes an optional fieldwork component. Student can also receive externship credit for relief efforts with legal organizations.

While registration for classes and externship credit is now closed, Iwerks said she anticipates that these opportunities will continue in the future.

“Sandy relief is going to be available for a long time. We know from Katrina that it will be at least a five-year span, so we hope to build on the momentum of the past few months to get law students involved over spring break and in future semesters,” she said.

One upcoming volunteer opportunity is a service day in the Rockaways on March 2, currently being organized by a group of Stein Scholars. More information about the project is forthcoming, and it will be open to the whole student body. Berke, who is helping to coordinate the service day, emphasized again that this is just the beginning of continued Fordham Law involvement in Sandy relief efforts.

“It’s really easy to lose touch with what is happening out in the communities especially now that school is back in session, so it’s the job of DRN and Stein to organize these kinds of things to help students stay involved with Sandy relief,” Berke said.

The fact that relief efforts are still ongoing is apparent to students like Loveland who were most directly impacted by the storm. Loveland has continued to help his friends and neighbors in Brick, New Jersey, by both documenting the devastation and gathering and sharing information on FEMA aid.

Loveland said that many people in his hometown, which has also endured flooding during subsequent storms since Sandy, are still in the preliminary stages of rebuilding. Neighbors have continued gutting their homes and assessing the financial and environmental destruction while also attempting to navigate complicated insurance and FEMA claims.

“People are still struggling. It’s quieted down and there’s less attention being paid, but people still need help,” he said.

As relief efforts continue, Lombardo and Berke said students should reach out to organizers at PIRC, Stein Scholars, or DRN to get involved in volunteer projects. Students should also express interest in the schools ongoing support for the disaster relief class, ask PIRC staff about disaster relief internships, or share any needs or projects that Fordham Law might be able to help with and get involved in.

For more information about Fordham Law’s Sandy relief efforts, visit http://fordhamlawsandyrelief.tumblr.com/ or contact drn@fordham.edu.

–Lucy Benz-Rogers

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