FEMA's deadline for Hurricane Sandy assistance has passed with 221 homeowners from East Hampton to Montauk filing for funds — many of them assisted through the process by a small army of workers from the Family Service League of Long Island.
Using money from a $131,000 federal grant, called Project Hope, the Family Service League has been out pounding the pavement, knocking on the doors of residents of the East End, Smithtown and Huntington, seeking out those still in need of help.
What they found in many cases was beyond words.
Robyn Berder-Gaston, a division director for the Family Service league, and Beth Gabellini, a program coordinator for Project Hope, said that more often than not, they came across residents who didn't even know help was available.
Early in their work, they met a family whose only shield from rain and wind was FedEx wrapping strapped on with duct tape over a hole where a tree came through a bedroom window.
"From the outside their homes looked okay, but inside was a different story," Gabellini said.
They found elderly residents who aren't versed in using the Internet and didn't know how to find resources, and Hispanics who didn't know English well enough to find help or had to leave their rentals because they were destroyed by water.
Many of the people they found in need were also those who would normally be those donating to organizations like the Family Service League, "but after Sandy, they found they are the ones in need of help and didn't know how to navigate the system and find help themselves," she said.
She described a well-dressed mother of five, who she met in an affluent area of Huntington. The woman said her husband lost two businesses to flooding after Sandy and she didn't know how she was going to make her next mortgage payment.
The 25 Family Service League workers who went door to door not only found people confused on how to obtain money to rebuild their homes and businesses but also many people struggling with financial burdens.
"Maybe they spent the last of their savings to buy a new family car to replace a car that was flooded," she said. "And now they have no food in their fridge."
To help, the service league said they have not only disseminated information, but they also handed out $200,000 that they received through the Robin Hood Foundation, grants and private donations. In addition, they offered free tax services.
Money, however, doesn't always help ease the pain of the many who suffered mental stresses in the aftermath Hurricane Sandy, Gabellini said.
More often than not, she said, her workers came across people who are suffering, on some level, from post-traumatic stress.
"So many people are overwhelmed. They had to relocate, their kids are in different schools, they are having difficulties living with relatives. Having power out for so long. It all takes a toll."
She pointed to a family in Smithtown, where a tree fell on their house, trapping a young boy in his bed. The boy's grandparents desperately tried to free their grandson for hours before help arrived.
In their travels, they also met a father whose mentally disabled son was saved from being hit by a falling tree, simply because he got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
They said they also walked into the homes of hoarders, who on top of having a house full of stuff, they were traumatized by Superstorm Sandy.
"Mental issues are at the heart of the tragedy that Sandy left in her wake," said Gabellini, who added that her organization has provided counseling resources to those they have come across.
But among all of the destruction, they said they also found hope.
On the North Fork, they came across a woman, whose house was half-burned down — firefighters could not save her house that went up in flames when salt water hit her electric box during the storm. She stood in her doorway with a mask and broom and told the Family Service League workers she was okay, that she didn't need help, and to go help others.
She said, Gabellini, remembered, "The real tragedy in her life was when her niece's life was taken by a drunk driver." Gabellini said the niece's baby book was one of only a few items to survive the fire.
Gabellini said she could not say how many lives her organization has impacted, but said they left no stone unturned, not only knocking on doors, but also setting up informational booths at libraries and even at car dealerships.
"We probably helped, through word of mouth, 10,000 people," said Gabellini, adding that western Southampton, the North Fork and Riverhead were some of the worst-affected area.
That number coupled with FEMA statistics paints an even clearer picture of Sandy's destruction.
According FEMA, not as many residents living on the Eastern end of the South Fork, filed for assistance — In East Hampton, 66 filed for assistance; in Montauk, 34; Sag Harbor, 81; Sagaponack, 11; and Amagansett, 29. In the Town of Southampton, 197 filed.
That can be compared with the near 600 living west of the canal to the Remsenburg/Speonk border — 200 residents in Hampton Bays filed, 150 in East Quogue, 23 in Quogue, 49 in Remsenburg, 10 in Speonk, 135 in Westhampton Beach and
On the North Fork, numbers were similar — a total of 567 homeowners filed from Orient to Jamesport.
To the west from Riverhead to Wading River, some 474 residents asked for assistance.
Looking at Suffolk County as a whole, Lindenhurst has the most residents filing to date — 4,146 put in FEMA applications, compared with other hard-hit areas: 962 filed in Mastic Beach, 677 in Oakdale; 509 in Patchogue; 404 in Smithtown; 627 in West Babylon 627; 494 in Commack; 1,666 in Babylon, 1,285 in Bayshore and 881 in West Islip.
The Family Service League is still accepting donations for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, click here to make a donation.
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