Grand Circle Associates Volunteer in Hurricane Aftermath

Grand Circle associates and their families, shown here with Bay Park residents, filled three vehicles with supplies to help New Yorkers affected by the hurricane.

As an international travel company, we strongly believe in being responsible and compassionate global citizens. When tragedies hit, they affect us all—and it’s our obligation as global partners to help those in need. That’s why Grand Circle Foundation has pledged or donated more than $91 million worldwide since 1992. But sometimes the ones who need our help the most are much closer to home.

Hurricane Sandy, one of the most devastating storms on record, hit the East Coast in late October 2012, with much of the destruction occurring in New York City and surrounding areas. More than one and a half million New Yorkers were without power, and many had to relocate to the nearly 80 evacuation shelters throughout the city. Grand Circle Foundation has donated $10,000 to the American Red Cross to assist the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts—but with New York just a few hours away from our Boston headquarters, we knew we had to reach out and do something more personal.

Our inspiration came from Nicole Arseneault, a Photo Editor at Grand Circle and proud Long Island native, who organized the effort along with her wife. Her family’s story was enough to mobilize anyone to lend a hand: "I grew up in a beach town on Long Island, and saw firsthand my childhood memories ripped to shreds,” said Nicole. “My family in Rockaway faced even worse conditions, when fire began to spread from house to house and the firefighters couldn't get their trucks through five feet of water and 80 mph winds to put them out.” Her personal goal was to travel to New York personally with care packages for 20 families—and her family at Grand Circle jumped at the chance to help.

On Saturday, November 17, a group of Grand Circle associates from our Boston office traveled to New York to deliver donated items to people affected by the hurricane’s devastation. The group included Nicole Arseneault and her wife; Email Content Manager Jim Xue; Traveler Support Supervisor MaryAnn Lawrence; Project Manager Jan Byrnes and her son, Colin Byrnes; and Photo Editor Greg Palmer, who was joined by his wife. The associates traveled in a caravan of three vehicles including a company van full of construction tools, a car full of cleaning supplies, and another full of food and trash bags. “All three vehicles were stocked to the hilt,” Greg said. “We had everything—cleaning supplies, shovels, heavy-duty trash bags, clothes, canned food, blankets, flashlights, and batteries.” Due to the reconstruction efforts that follow any major disaster, the items that were of most immediate need were face masks, work gloves, trash bags, and crow bars to tear down the water-soaked walls.

Bay Park residents receive donations to rebuild their homes—and their lives.

The residents had salvaged what they could from their homes, but many water-damaged homes were now completely gutted. The surrounding streets were lined with the former contents of homes now heaped onto sidewalks. While driving through the neighborhoods of Bay Park, East Rockaway, and Long Beach, the associates knocked on doors, offering supplies and asking people what they needed. When it became too dark to deliver the supplies directly, they brought the remaining items to the Long Beach Knights of Columbus Hall.

Nicole wasn't the only one who had personal connections to the tragedy. Greg, who attended Hofstra University on Long Island, has spent much time in Long Beach and has friends that still live there. “The general gratitude of all of the folks we were fortunate enough to help was touching,” Greg reflected. “It made every minute of the long, exhausting day well worth it."

The associates were inspired by the resiliency of the human spirit so pervasive in these communities, as they spotted handmade signs encouraging residents to “Be Strong” and “Hope.”

Photo Editor Nicole Arseneault shares a smile with her aunt in Long Beach.

“So many of the people had smiles on their faces,” said Maryann. “Many people would ask for one sponge and when we offered more, they would say, ‘I'm sure there are others that need it more.’” Neighbors were looking out for each other, seeking blankets for those without heat, and checking in with each other to make sure everyone had access to basic supplies.

Despite their lack of resources, the residents were generous and charitable with whatever they had on hand. A group of residents who were without power were having lunch on their front yard, and asked the associates to join them for a meal. The associates shared smiles, hugs—and a lot of good-natured teasing about our favorite sports teams.

“It’s one thing to see the pictures and people on TV and in the newspaper,” said Maryann, “but to see the areas and the people face-to-face really told the story.”

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