Storm Troopers: How Zumba instructors are steering relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
A few miles out beyond the perimeter hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, restaurants are bustling, streets are jam-packed and life as we know it continues. “There’s a lot of sadness in the air but if you drive 10 blocks in any direction, it’s like nothing happened,” says Elaine Gil, a Zumba instructor in Staten Island, New York, one of the areas hardest-hit by the hurricane. The so-called “superstorm” devastated a large sector of the northeastern coast of the United States, leaving approximately 8 million people without power — including Gil.
It’s been an emotional and overwhelming couple of weeks for Gil and her family. Though she and her family only lost power for a couple of days, she’s doing her best to help those still destitute more than one month after Hurricane Sandy hit. “God forbid this sort of thing were to happen to my family,” says Gil. “I would hope someone would find it in their hearts to help.” Together with her husband, Israel, several students and community volunteers, Gil organized a massive outreach operation in neighboring towns. “We’ve shown up to buildings that look unlivable, some of which are condemned, and found people inside cold and hungry,” she says.
Gil and friends go out almost daily, bringing people hot, home-cooked meals. But that’s not all. The couple has turned their basement Zumba studio into a massive donation center, filling it with everything from supplies to clothing, including 2,000 Zumba coats sent personally by Zumba CEO Alberto Perlman. “[He] called my house and asked what we needed — that was huge,” she says.
Zumba members hundreds of miles away from New York and New Jersey have also pitched in to help. “The storm missed my neighborhood by about two miles, but [the ZIN community] is a family — we take care of each other,” says Manny Carreras, a Zumba instructor in Northern Virginia. When he couldn’t make it to the nearest Zumbathon in Delaware — proceeds of which benefitted the American Red Cross — he organized a collection of his own. Word of the collection soon spread and volunteers filled the gym where he teaches with everything from blankets and clothing to cases of food and water. Carreras, who initially thought to rent a small van, wound up packing a 17-foot truck full of supplies. On his drive, Carreras and other volunteers made stops to collect additional donations over their two-day journey. “People looked at me like I was crazy,” says Carrera. “But I’d rather be crazy than know there are people who are homeless and without food.”
Instructor Alexis Roe couldn’t bear the thought of her tight-knit community going hungry either — even when she and her family lost power. “The second I could, I went on Facebook and sent out an SOS,” says Roe. “There were people without food or water, FEMA wasn’t even here yet.” Roe shut down her fitness studio and turned it into a collection center.
She and other volunteers rented trucks and distributed goods to all of the nearby affected areas. “She’s the person we turn to when we need help and while all of this is happening to her, she’s collecting donations and packing up trucks,” says Pennsylvania-based instructor Jodi DellaBarba. Relief efforts are still ongoing, say the women, and will likely continue through the holiday season or as long as is necessary. “We’re more than just a fitness program,” says Roe. “We’re a family, and when you reach out, we will be there in an instant.” –Virginia Gil