When Sandy hit, everyone wanted to do something.
I was fortunate enough after digging my car out from under a tree to discover I had a full tank of gas—which would turn out to be very valuable. Word got out that The Rockaways were devasted and there was no food, gas, electricity, nothing. The rest of us had food and clothes to donate but lacked ways to get the donations out to where they were needed.
Middle of street in Broad Channel
So I found some collections centers and made an initial trip with donated clothes and food with my neighbor Quyen Doh. We were blown away by the devastation we saw. Once we had given away a packed car full of food, word got out about us driving out there and suddenly I was flooded with offers of donations. Three more trips would ensue each time with my car packed to the gills—packed, as in I was driving with boxes of pasta in my lap.
Many people offered to come with me to The Rockaways but I could only sit 4 people in my car and each person meant less room donations. One of our designers, Michael Kronenberg volunteered to bring his mini-van PLUS a few gallons of gas he had managed to get which more than doubled our capacity. Keith Ramjohn, an amazing caterer, volunteered to cook the food that Photographer Gerri Hernandez connected us to The Oratory Church of St. Boniface which donated food so Keith Ramjohn, an amazing caterer could cook all through the night so we could feed 120 people a hot meal—something most people had not had in a week. Designer Herb Greenword and Heeday Nakahashi from Eriksen Translations joined in to help serve warm food and distribute items.We loaded up and headed out again to the Rockaways.
We randomly turned down a street far into The Rockaways where we discovered Cynthia Bryant, a strong local community leader who, on her own with nothing, had organized and was caring for elderly and physically and mentally challenged neighbors many of whom had been living in first floor dwellings all of which were flooded and uninhabitable. She was key. With her help were were able to ensure that every donation went to someone who truly needed it. Word got out. More donations.
Ceol Pub donated 2 massive Shepard’s Pies, Tony at Brooklyn Heights Bike Shoppe supplied us with 2 cases of LCD flashlights—and highly coveted batteries. These were super important as it got dark at 4pm and no one could see, let alone work to continue to clean up after 4pm. This allowed the many young men out there to do just that, helped young moms care for their children and gave some elderly ladies a little more security.
Eriksen Translations immediately mobilized to collect items—typical of the companies civic minded culture. They themselves had a window blow out rendering one of their offices looking like a bomb scene.
Suzanne Sobel made a very generous donation that allowed for us to go to a botanica (the only place where you could find candles at that point) and buy cases and cases of candles and other badly needed supplies. And Suzanne told her good friend Maria Cuomo Cole who heads HELP USA, an amazing organization, who we would later partner with to put together a video supporting their much larger efforts. The video would end up playing in all of the NYC taxi cabs.
Vigdis Eriksen also made a very generous donation and went out and bought hats and gloves and blankets, etc. Alan Hyman made a generous financial donation allowing us to buy a trunk full of hot pizzas. When Antonio’s Pizzeria shop found out why we were buying so many pizzas, they threw in some free pies as well.
Alyssa Shulman found out about our efforts and worked with her family, Amy and Larry Shulman from Huntington Home Systems in Boston who had started a charity called Friends of New York. Together with the great people at Raymour and Flannigan, they sent down an entire truckload of supplies.
These “little” things are huge when you don’t have them. But more important than the food, the clothes, flashlights, batteries or candles was the message that we do take care of our own. That people do want to help and given even an opportunity to do so, they will take it.
Gretchen Miller, Ann and Rick Martin, Danielle Carlton, all donated large amounts of clothing and needed items.
Gerri Hernandez, who is an excellent photographer, arranged for us to get food from the The Oratory Church of St. Boniface food bank—twice and came out to document the devastation which led to even more people want to help.
At one point, FEMA came up to us to ask what organization we were from. No organization, just a tank of gas and a lot of big hearts—from New York and beyond—looking to help.