In October 2012, a chance Facebook encounter connected Marcie Allen with Issy Sanchez, a longtime music business executive and resident of Rockaway Beach, N.Y., which had just been hit by Hurricane Sandy. Allen, who splits her time between Nashville and Manhattan, sprang into action following the then-stranger’s SOS: She caught the first flight to LaGuardia Airport and brought gas, food and other supplies to Sanchez and his neighbors. “It was like a war zone,” she recalls. Allen then enlisted industry friends to raise over $100,000 in donations and aid for the residents of Beach 119th Street, and even directed a short documentary about the families on the block and their recovery.
Below, the experiential and branding expert reflects on the experience, which earned her the Humanitarian Award at Billboard’s 10th annual Touring Awards in 2013, as well as a nod from President Barack Obama as one of the White House’s Hurricane Sandy “champions of change.”
I got divorced in 2009 and I moved to New York the next year. I tell people all the time — New York saved me. I’d always wanted to live here, so I packed up my two dogs and my truck like a fricking country song, and never looked back. Now I split my time between New York and Nashville, where my husband and stepdaughters live. I was home with my family in Nashville watching the destruction to lower Manhattan, to the Rockaways, to Breezy Point. I don’t know what it was. New York saved me, and I wanted to help this one guy.
I landed at the airport, got in my Jeep and started driving. It was just myself and the National Guard going over to Breezy [Point, in Rockaway Beach]. There were no other cars. Everyone’s first floors flooded and the gas stations and all public transportation stopped. They were on an island and had no way to get off. I didn’t know Issy, but I knew his address on Beach 119, so I just showed up. He gave me the biggest hug and all of these people came out of their houses. They hadn’t seen anyone in five days. There was no FEMA, no Red Cross. He said, “Are you coming back tomorrow?”
I went back every day for a month and just stopped working. After Hurricane Katrina, I drove a gigantic semi-truck to Houston, Texas filled with water and blankets and baby diapers, so I had done this before, but not to the extent that I put my life on hold for over a month. My whole office was out there, everyone at MAC, and it became this movement. All of these music industry friends sponsored families. If you weren’t calling to give me money or to buy a generator, I didn’t want to talk to you. I was getting people’s medicine. I restored this woman’s wedding dress. I bought grills, and eventually new kitchens. I was their outlet, and they became my family. For Thanksgiving, I found a Boston Market 20 minutes away and got 560 meals delivered. We served the meals out of the back of my Jeep. No one had had a hot meal in a month.
Billboard did a story on it and then I had more people in the industry calling, how can I help? One thing about giving back is sometimes you don’t know how to do it. Issy introduced me to everyone and then I started getting orders. What do you need from Walgreen’s, the grocery store, Home Depot? No one had transportation, that’s what people don’t understand. The trains weren’t running, the buses weren’t running, nothing was running.
At the Touring Awards, I had no idea that I was [an honoree], but then Issy walked onstage, and I just lost it. I had people coming up to me with tears in their eyes. It made me proud to be a New Yorker, proud to be in the music industry, and I was so appreciative of Billboard for recognizing Issy, the families of Beach 119 and making sure that they weren’t forgotten. Everyone says they are so busy, and that’s just bullshit. I didn’t write a $100,000 check — I didn’t have $100,000. I knew that I could not help everyone, so I did what I could. These people lost everything and never didn’t have a smile on their face. It was the highlight of my life, it really was.