Indy office manager Jillian Griffiths and I took a trip to the Rockaways on Sunday to deliver much needed supplies to an area that was extremely hard hit by Super Storm Sandy.
Leading up to our trip we requested information from the East End Cares group Facebook page to determine what supplies were needed most by hurricane victims. We then reached out to the community with a request for donations. Those items include cleaning supplies, baby formula and diapers, toiletries, pet supplies, and hot and non-perishable foods.
The community support was exemplary, and our office was flooded with gifts of all the above. We happily loaded the Independent delivery van with these supplies, which also included 200 fresh bagels from Twice Upon A Bagel in Wainscott and 100 turkey and cheese sandwiches made by Indy's Chef Joe Cipro with bread donated by The Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton.
As we approached the Rockaways, the destruction is unfathomable. Cars are abandoned. A sign in the Broad Channel area reads "FEMA Please Help." Boats are strewn along the roadways, as if they were flung across the street by a super villian. You've seen the harrowing images on social media sites and on the news. It is as bad as it looks.
So many homes have been left in a mess of electrical, plumbing and structural damage due to Sandy's surging seas and high winds. The residents are hungry and they don't have enough of the supplies that they desperately need. People walk the streets in masks to avoid airborne toxins.
As we arrived at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Belle Harbor to deliver our goods, grateful volunteers greeted us. They couldn't emphasize enough the need for these supplies. As they graciously unloaded our van, they told us they hope we can come back soon. I told them The Independent would be back once we could fill the van again with donations.
The scene at St. Francis is like nothing I've ever experienced. There is a strong government presence. Military and NYPD patrol the streets offering protection and guidance. There are volunteers all around, working together. Volunteer jobs are available for everyone who wants to help. Thousands of people wait in line for food and supplies. Food trucks - including the Montauk based Montaco - line the streets by St. Francis giving away free hot meals. Many are paid for by the NYC Mayor's Fund. No one is greedy and everyone is patient.
The smell of burned buildings fills the air, but hope is not lost among the community. The spirit of the people is positive and everyone is working together towards the goal of rebuilding. Once the wreck is cleaned up, they will rebuild their neighborhood.
A flag is flown proudly above brick rubble that was once home to a New York City Firefighter. Down the block, the awning of the Harbor Light Pub is all that remains standing. On the ocean, houses have collapsed. It resembles a war zone.
There have been so many East End residents who have volunteered to help the relief effort. I spoke with East Hampton resident Linda Shapiro who grew up in Bayswater, a waterside community in Far Rockaway. Shapiro coordinated a mission to bring pet food and litter to the Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, along with Andy Sabin, the President of the South Fork Natural History Museum. Dr. Ira Rogoff and his wife Phillis, owners of the animal hospital, not only had severe damage to the hospital but they have been living at the JFK Hilton Airport hotel since their Belle Harbor home was under eight feet of water.
"The animal hospital has lost over $200,000 worth of new equipment. It is going to take a lot of work and fundraising, as the equipment was not insured. But their spirit is uplifting. They said that I brought them luck because, just prior to our arriving, they got their lights back! They are grateful for every little step forward toward restoring normalcy," said Shapiro.
"We could not unload quickly enough," said Shapiro of the delivery. "People were desperate for the food and litter. I called them the following morning and what we had delivered was already depleted. We plan on dropping another shipment early next week." For this week's trip, members of the Board of the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation will also be contributing.
Seeing the devastation in the Rockaways was difficult, recalled Shapiro, "Going back there, after Sandy, was more than heartbreaking. I felt like I was in New Orleans in the Lower Ninth Ward. Every house was condemned. Doors were open and you could see straight through, as all of the furniture was piled outside, completely destroyed. Businesses and private homes, decimated. I have never seen so many work trucks. Both sides of the streets were lined with them, but progress is slow."
Many have joined to help the Rockaways relief effort, along with the efforts of other communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. The outreach of volunteer community members is massive.
Here at The Independent we ask for your help once again. We will be conducting another drive for supplies and food this Friday at our office between 1 and 4 PM. Stop by our new office located at 74 Montauk Highway (now Suite 16) in East Hampton with cleaning supplies, baby formula and diapers, toiletries, pet supplies, or food. We will transport these items to those who need them.