On Monday, I was fortunate enough to join in another group headed for Rockaway put together, at least partially, through the volunteer forum in East End Cares. This time, the transportation was provided by Main Beach Surf in Wainscott as the shop donated one of their summer camp vans to transport volunteers to the shelter at St. Francis De Sales school at Beach 129th St. in Rockaway.
This area of the Rockaways is maybe six blocks from ocean to Sound and one can easily witness how & where these two bodies of water met during the warfare of Hurricane Sandy. On my first trip in a week ago, the debris pulled from houses had been left on the street five feet high in places along every block as far as the eye could see. On this trip, I was heartened to see that the streets were slowly being cleared and, in fact, we had passed the colossal debris field near the Marine Basin Bridge before arriving in Rockaway. The field looks like something out of a Mad Maxx movie from the 70’s. Just mountains of twisted metal, sodden furniture, bits & pieces of people’s lives, piled high in a parking lot until the sanitation department can figure out what to do with it.
Upon arrival at St. Francis De Sales, as soon as our feet hit the ground, our 14 volunteers were grabbed from different directions. Vinnie was hailed by a man across the street who needed help in his basement, Jimmy was immediately borrowed by an elderly woman who needed assistance carrying her relief items to her apartment and the rest of us, right there on the sidewalk, were handed boxes of supplies being unloaded from a truck and told to carry them inside and stack them somewhere.
So began the day. St. Francis is a thriving hub in the community today. People come from as far as 17 miles away to gather their relief supplies, anything from buckets & mops, to toilet paper & soup. There is a warming tent which serves food and offers counseling services to anyone who needs to share about their current situation or speak about the hurricane. Volunteers like ourselves are immediately put to use sorting, stacking and distributing goods to the people who need it. As they had recently been lucky enough to obtain a generator to restore partial lighting to the school’s gymnasium, our first job was to remove a mountain of clothing which was backed up against the fuse panel in the corner of the room and was a potential fire hazard. Easy enough you might think, until you caught a glimpse of the monumental 6 foot high and 10 foot deep pile of shirts, pants, sweater, jackets that needed to be relocated. Since there was no room in the building, we had put everything in giant plastic garbage bags and haul it across the street to the staging area there. Quite a task, but we were up for it. The last thing anyone wanted was to risk a fire in this central meeting ground and distribution center that gave aid to so many ailing people.
As the day unfolded, there were moments of opportunity to offer support to individuals coming through the shelter. One local resident paused on the sidewalk as I was lugging a bag too heavy to lift over the curb. She told me how she didn’t have any power, heat or water and hadn’t for over 2 weeks. I stopped to chat with her and noticed a resilience in her sparkly blue eyes (she was easily in her 70’s) and told her so. She laughed and just shook her head. At that point, I reached out and hugged her. We both welled up. “Hang in there”, I told her. “I will”, she said and marched off down the street to her apartment which luckily had been on the 2nd floor of her complex. The stories down there are endless. The help that is needed far surpasses the amount of people on the ground right now. But, more are coming.
Every day when I check on the East End Cares forum in Facebook, I am moved beyond measure to see and hear all the acts of service being given by our own big hearted local community. East Hampton has officially adopted Rockaway as a sister town and, although our efforts are focused there, trips are being taken by individuals to Long Beach, Island Park, Staten Island and beyond. I’ve read about Jesse who is driving 3 times a week to help her brother in Island Park salvage his soaked house. Ellie, who in the midst of a gas crisis, drove to Breezy Point to be with her sister who lost everything. The Hampton Jitney donated ANOTHER bus just this past Tuesday and took in a group of volunteers to St. Gertrude’s on 38th St. in Rockaway, yet another relief shelter for the overburdened. Tirelessly, people are coordinating the pick up and drop off of various goods and supplies. This week, the forum is looking for individuals to assist with removing dry wall from homes in the affected areas. After 2 weeks, mold is beginning to take root. For some, heat may not arrive until after Christmas. For many, the clean up will take years.
Please offer your assistance in whatever way you can to help those who’ve been truly devastated by the effects of the hurricane. Life for us on the East End goes on as we know it. But for the people in Rockaway, and Long Beach and Staten Island and New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy has altered their way of life forever.