NEW YORK — Marianne Moore was crossing the border from Canada to the U.S. with a car full of boxes and suitcases. As she approached a border checkpoint carrying “what appears to be piles of evidence that I am moving to the United States,” she said, “I suddenly think, they are going to turn me back. What was I thinking agreeing to do this?”
Moore, the integrated marketing manager for G Adventures at its Toronto headquarters, had agreed to drive to New York with a car full of supplies for victims of Hurricane Sandy.
When the customs officer saw the supplies, he asked if she was carrying drugs.
As he popped the trunk, Moore waited, envisioning him finding a discarded marijuana joint in a donated jacket. Apparently not finding any contraband, he welcomed her to the U.S.
Moore’s driving marathon was part of a corporate response to Hurricane Sandy’s devastation and the needs of two company employees based in the area.
G Adventures had recently converted a school bus into a “bio bus,” fueled by vegetable oil, painted it purple and christened it the MV Freedom. The plan was to take the bus on the road to travel events.
Instead, its inaugural journey was a very long day’s roundtrip to the Rockaways, an area in the borough of Queens that had been ravaged by Sandy.
Bruce Poon Tip, the company’s owner and founder, contributed $1,500 to buy supplies, which were added to gifts from the Toronto and Providence staffs.
As a result, G Adventures rented two trucks and wound up with an ad hoc fleet of three loaded vehicles and seven people (six employees and a volunteer) for the journey.
G Adventures, a preferred supplier for Ensemble, also picked up a sizable donation from Ensemble staffers at the organization’s New York office.
Andrew Hickey, G Adventure’s social media manager, and Eduardo Cartaya, northeast U.S. regional sales manager, both live in New Jersey, but they met their colleagues in the Rockaways, where Hickey grew up and where his family still resides.
Steve Lima, G Adventures’ U.S. marketing manager, said his group stopped at several churches in the Rockaways where local volunteers had set up relief distribution centers. At each, he said, locals chose or accepted only items that could actually be used.
Probably the most appreciated gift, he said, was 100 gallons of gasoline that the convoy carried in 20 five-gallon cans.
To prevent a frenzy when the cans were handed down from atop the MV Freedom, he said, they were wrapped in black bags and referred to as “milk” within earshot of strangers.
The last stop on the group’s journey was a visit with Hickey’s family and their neighbors. Their homes still stood, but there was much wind and water damage, and the G Adventures group distributed supplies there, as well.
Lima said things didn’t seem to be improving very quickly, even with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross on site. It looked like a “war zone,” he said. “There were cops everywhere.”
His team aimed to depart by sunset out of concern about looting. Lima recalled that one McDonald’s restaurant had posted a sign advising “Don’t bother. We’ve already been robbed.”
Just the same, he said, the experience was “so rewarding. ... We gave people some hope today.”
Ensemble had rounded up its contributions from staff within a day of returning to its Manhattan office, which had been without power. Co-president Libbie Rice said staffers who had electricity had been able to work remotely because recently, “We took almost all our systems into the cloud.”
But while the company’s data were safe, the phones were not working. “We will look at the phone system now,” she said.
Ensemble’s member agencies are in operation, according to Suzanne Hall, senior director of marketing and development for land products.
American Express headquarters was also within Manhattan’s blackout zone.
Marina Hoffmann Norville, vice president for corporate, financial and risk public relations, said all American Express reps and owned locations in New York and New Jersey were back in operation as of Monday, Nov. 5, one full week after the storm.
Most headquarters staff were set up to work remotely, she said, and the Amex building was open on generator power Nov. 1 and 2 to staffers needing a dry space and a place to recharge cellphones.
The company is operating a bus service for staffers in areas where public transport is spotty and assisting with shelter and some reimbursements if their homes were severely damaged.
At the same time, Amex has started a drive to collect food and cleaning supplies for distribution. It will also match staffers’ charitable contributions and is coordinating staff volunteer projects.
Corporately, Amex contributed $1 million to the Red Cross and is forgiving merchant fees for 10 charities between Oct. 29 and Dec. 31.