Local Citizens Are Social for Hurricane Sandy Relief

  |  November 23, 2012   |  Comments

How individuals are using social media to lend a hand to relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Hurricane Sandy may be over but the social media efforts by local citizens wanting to show support in the wake of the storm have only just begun.

The large national efforts of the Red Cross and other relief organizations are providing aid in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. They have the social media presence that comes as a matter of course with such organizations. Individuals are also using social media, however, to lend a hand.

Giovanna Mullen and troop mates in Girl Scouts troop 20189 sought to help Nishuane Elementary School in Montclair, N.J., which was broken into following Hurricane Sandy and looted of 27 iMac computers. They set up a web page, a Facebook page, and a Twitter feed to seek donations, either in cash or in equipment, to replace the lost computers.

Giovanna and her troop mates reached out to numerous media outlets and personalities through Twitter for the effort, attracting attention from NBC and Chelsea Clinton, who is now a news correspondent for the network. "I personally was surprised at the power that Twitter has and it gets to people you would never expect like that," says Jeanniey Mullen, Giovanna's mother.

Setting up three different types of web presence proved beneficial to their efforts, she adds. "The different media channels all had a very different response. It wouldn't have been successful if it was just any one of them on their own." As Twitter reached the wider world for the group, their Facebook page, "Computers For Kids," ended up connecting them to their local community with 173 "likes" and counting. "It's people who know my mom and go to my school," says Giovanna.

The response that Giovanna and the troop have gotten has been greater than expected, and they are considering channeling donations to other schools that have lost computers due to storm damage or otherwise.

Another individual using social media to help Sandy victims is Marneen Zahavi, a ticket broker and former real estate broker who lives in Flushing, Queens. Zahavi had previously leveraged his contacts and to some extent social media to help one family personally after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. When Hurricane Sandy hit, Zahavi was inspired to do so again personally for a family who needed help. He posted on Facebook his willingness to help through collecting necessities and gift cards that a family could use to purchase needed items (clothing, housewares, toiletries, etc.), but as it turned out, there was a family in need close to him - the sister of a friend of his.

Zahavi then promoted his efforts through Facebook along with an email blast to contacts. "You have to be careful of not overdoing it, because then people block you, if you're annoying people," he says. "With Facebook, consistently echoing and updating it, and also pages on my personal site, I let everyone know."

He has set goals for $500 in gift card purchases at each of several stores the family (Michelle, Tim, and children Elizabeth, 10 and Tommy, 8) will be able to reach to pick up items. "People have been slowly emailing me gift certificates," Zahavi says.

Zahavi expects about 90 percent of donations from his latest effort to come through social media contacts. He is still in the process of collecting the donations.

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