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Wall Street Banker by Day, Volunteer at Home in Hoboken by Night

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- When Rachel L. Simons woke up at 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday, she had no idea how long it would take her to cross the Hudson River from Hoboken, N.J., to Midtown Manhattan, where she works in the equity sales unit of investment bank Barclays (BCS).

Little did she know that her Wall Street skills would be put to the test as a hurricane-relief worker upon returning to a mostly powerless, flood-stricken hometown.

For Simons, like many in Greater New York reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Wednesday marked an attempt at a return to normal amid devastating conditions.

Wall Streeters like Simons prepared for the Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange to reopen trading, and professionals across New York's boroughs navigated work commutes marked by long walks, bus rides in heavy traffic and a dormant subway system.

The real twist for Simons came after the trading day and in her return to Hoboken, one of the hardest non-coastal cities hit by Hurricane Sandy. By midnight on Tuesday, National Guard troops had arrived at the riverfront city to evacuate people in life-threatening peril. Their work continued through Wednesday and is likely to go on for days.

Most Hoboken residents remain without power, Internet and, in some instances, are in urgent need of drug prescriptions, water and food.

Simons' apartment on Hudson Street in Hoboken had electricity and Internet -- it's one of the few areas left relatively unscathed compared with the city's devastating flooding and power outages.

"What do I do with my time?" she said. "Do I watch the destruction on TV? So I went down to City Hall and I am so happy I went."

Simons arrived to a City Hall in need of a wide array of volunteer work, and with its mayor, Dawn Zimmer, dispatching helping hands for a range of Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Guard-assisted recovery tasks.

National Guard at Hoboken City Hall

In what Simons calculates as six hours of relief work from when she returned to Hoboken to midnight, the banker by day was going door-to-door in the city to hand out National Guard MREs [meals ready to eat] and poll residents on urgent prescription needs by nightfall.

According to media reports, 20,000 Hoboken residents remain stranded, and many in dire need have been evacuated by the guard's emergency work.

Simons seemed most proud of how her Wall Street skills came to immediate use amid a chaotic recovery effort that still needs far more helping hands, supplies and time.

After volunteers broke up into what Simons calls "sub teams," she and a pharmacist went door-to-door on an assignment to find or fill in missing information on the urgent drug-prescription needs of Hoboken residents. Given a set of hand-scrawled notes compiled through the day with hard-to-understand information on prescriptions, dosages and pharmacy locations, Simons decided her daily work building trading spreadsheets on Microsoft (MSFT) Excel could be put to good use.

Once her team had finished its canvassing, Simons rushed home to make a spreadsheet that described the location of patients, their prescriptions, dosages and the priority of their drug need -- with input from her medically trained colleague of just a few hours.

Prescriptions deemed most urgent at the top of the Excel file filled 20 to 30 columns.

"I think I actually added a lot of value today," Simons said.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and Rachel L. Simons

Simons said the spreadsheet will be sent to each of Hoboken's pharmacies. She hopes that, with the help of the Guard and FEMA's assistance, it will come to good use. Of the prescriptions deemed priority on the Excel file, "those are people who, if they can't get their blood-thinner medication, could have a heart attack," Simons said.
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