Volunteers Mobilize to Retouch Sandy-Damaged Photographs for Free

While parts of New York and New Jersey continue to pull themselves from the wreckage left by Hurricane Sandy, others have united to bring assistance to the hardest hit areas. And though necessities like food and heat are obviously the most crucial to survivors of natural disasters, one organization is hoping to give these people back something that money can’t buy― their memories.

CARE for Sandy is an organization of professional photographers and photo retouchers who came together for the sole purpose of providing free photo retouching services to Sandy-hit victims. Because when family pictures are gone, they’re gone, there is no “rebuild” and so CARE, which stands for the Cherished Albums Restorations Efforts, hopes to preserve those effects that are beyond value.

Lee Kelly, a CARE for Sandy founder explained, “Cars, homes and jobs are replaceable, images of mom & dad’s honeymoon, baby’s first steps and great great grandpa’s sole surviving portrait are priceless.”

The organization, in tandem with sponsors like GoPreserve, held its first scanning event this week in Rockaway Beach. Locals brought boxes of their water-damaged family photos for scanning. The cost to survivors is free, at least for the first 100 pictures.  After that, they’re retouched at a half-price rate. Once volunteers finish restoring the pictures, they’re sent back to their respective owners via an online portal.

But area residents are also handing in strangers' photos that wash up on the beach, or reveal themselves in the rubble of burned out buildings. CARE is restoring those too, and posting them on their website in the hopes of finding their owners. 

CARE for Sandy joins other unique grass-roots efforts aimed at helping the area recover from its recent disaster. One anonymously run Facebook page, titled Hurricane Sandy Thanksgiving Adopt a Family Dinner, matched displaced locals with families willing to share their homes with them on Thanksgiving. And a number of other Facebook pages have been spontaneously erected for the purposes of reuniting found memorabilia items with the residents who lost them during the storm.

Pictures and memorabilia may seem somehow trivial in light of the homes and livelihoods many people watched wash away as a result of Sandy.  But for some of the survivors, their dignity is pooled less so in the houses they're resurrecting than it is in the  memories and moments that have made their lives uniquely theirs. And their photos are a testament to that. 

If you were rebuilding after a disaster, would preserving your family memorabilia be important to you? 

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• Hurricane Sandy Recovery: How to Help

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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer.  In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com