After arriving at Brighton Beach, our busload of 75 volunteers was soon joined by 3 additional groups, putting us at a total of about 300 people. We were assisting the NYC Parks Department with beach cleanup, which consisted of 3 main tasks:
- Canvassing the beach with large trash bags, removing any litter/debris/trash/tree branches that were swept onto the beach from Hurricane Sandy
- Using 16” brooms to sweep sand off of the boardwalk (since the ocean had pushed sand far past the boardwalk and even into the streets)
- Using shovels to shovel the sand on the boardwalk into piles—which would then be wheelbarrowed back onto the beach by the National Guard.
As I picked up trash and debris from the beach, I came across items like: bottle caps, plastic bags entrenched in the sand, candy and food wrappers, a broken Corona bottle, plastic parts of ballpoint pens, an intact pencil, plastic tampon applicators, pieces of a wooden fence, a broom handle, plastic bottles, pieces of a wooden staircase banister, plastic utensils, and drinking straws. My co-volunteer, Nicole, found a children’s slap bracelet with peace symbols on it, and placed it on her own wrist.
I made a mental note to stop using plastic whenever possible.
Nicole discovered a yellow and white sail that was buried in the sand, near the shoreline. I offered to help her dig it up. We got a couple of shovels, but soon found that shoveling tightly packed wet sand was tougher than we thought. We tried to pull the sail up, out of the sand, but it was stuck… buried who-knew how deep. The sail was also folded upon itself in various places, and when we tried to rip it apart, we discovered that it was filled with shells, sand, and other debris. It was a slow process to unearth it, but we were determined to do so, even when we saw the tide coming in closer and closer to us. After alternating between shoveling sand off of it, ripping the sail to expose the sand and shells packed inside, and using our hands to scoop the sand and shells out of various pockets, we managed to free the entire sail. I enjoyed how this was a project for us and that it was a tangible outcome, no matter how small. This sail would not be littering Brighton Beach anymore. Success!
Sweeping sand from the boardwalk, as well as shoveling sand into piles on the boardwalk, were less memorable experiences. There’s just one thing of note. Somehow, the broom I chose was defective and the head kept separating from the handle. I later learned that this happened to a lot of people. Can’t the Parks Department afford better brooms? As I struggled for the second time to re-attach the head to the handle, an elderly Russian couple approached me. The man reached out and said, “I know what to do.” I held the head of the broom steady while he twisted the handle into it, then watched as he turned the broom upside down and smashed it into the boardwalk a few times, securing the two pieces together. He handed it back to me with a smile, and I thanked him. A few minutes later, though, the broom became detached again. At that point, I switched my task to shoveling instead, which was much more productive.
While I felt like we made some good progress, there is still so much to be done. Cleaning up the beach was fine, and I know it has to be done. But I think that in my next attempt to help out in the field, I will try to find an opportunity where I am more directly helping people. There are still people in some areas without electricity, running water, or access to food and drinking water. They need our help more than the beaches do.