After the Storm
Hope in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy
photograph by Lindsey Morton
In the face of hardship, it’s easy to fall apart. To allow yourself to feel defeated as things around you spiral out of control. Weeks after Hurricane Sandy, many in the community are still reeling from the devastation. From the damage of downed trees, to the nightmare of losing everything you own, few in our area escaped unscathed. Rather than losing hope, the individuals and organizations below have rallied together to offer aid and support to those in need. For those who have been impacted by Hurricane Sandy, these good deeds embody renewed hope, and are a glimmer of light in dark times.
Food for Thought
With Hurricane Sandy displacing hundreds, the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County didn’t hesitate to help. The charitable organization distributed 38,666 pounds of food to Salvation Army locations in Stamford and Norwalk and 65 cases of MRE (Meals Ready to Eat). At emergency shelters, the organization also cooked and served meals to community members.
Due to extended power outages, several associated agencies lost their food and beverage stock. The Food Bank helped replace food stocks and assisted residents in need directly.
“The Food Bank could not have accomplished this feat without the help and generosity of our residents. This storm struck two and a half weeks before Thanksgiving. Not only did individuals, companies, schools, and foundations support those in need during the storm, they opened their hearts and wallets to ensure that their neighbors had a proper Thanksgiving. Fairfield County rocks with generosity!” said Kate Lombardo, Executive Director of The Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County.
After Sandy, an artist painted a mural on the exterior of this condemned Staten Island home | Photos by Pearson Burke
Pearson Burke might have moved away from his native Greenwich to Washington State, but he hasn’t lost his sense of connection to the area. After the hurricane hit, he loaded supplies into his SUV and embarked on a cross-country trip to Greenwich. After Thanksgiving, he journeyed to a distribution center on Olympia Boulevard in Staten Island to help with the relief efforts.
Pearson joined a group working in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods. He and the others gutted houses. They lugged appliances to the street and knocked down mildewed sheetrock, stripping walls down to their bones. Currently, he works in Staten Island for five to six nights at a time, before returning to Greenwich to recharge for a day or two. He hopes to continue this pattern until Christmas, when he will return home.
In the evenings, he and the other volunteers spend time at the Goodfella’s, an Italian restaurant that has become a hub for volunteers, thanks to the organization of the restaurant’s founder, Marc Cosentino, and John McCole. Cosentino is a former NYPD sergeant and McCole a former firefighter who rescued survivors of 9/11, following the collapse of the second tower.
What surprised Pearson when he first arrived in Staten Island was that there is no one organization that organizes the relief efforts, such as FEMA or the Red Cross. Instead, the movement is a grassroots effort coordinated by groups of retired police officers, retired firefighters, church volunteers, and Occupy Sandy.
“If it wasn’t for those four groups, this would be a much, much different situation,” he says. “Much more chaotic. And I think much more depressing.” Though the hard times are far from over, the people are resilient and thankful for the help they receive. “I’m really surprised that people are in as good a psychological state as they are,” he says.
Michelle, John, and Meg Gerli in front of one of the fallen trees | Photograph by Simona
The day before the hurricane hit, Simona from Greenwich ventured out for supplies. At the grocery store, she bumped into a friend’s daughter, Meg Gerli, and her father John. The Gerlis could see that Simona was not herself. She was anxious, fearing that fallen trees would trap her and her children inside their home.
Luckily, a family friend provided Simona’s family a shelter from the storm. On Tuesday, Simona, without cellphone service for days, returned home to assess the damage. Her house was untouched but two downed trees blocked her driveway. Three people, already hard at work removing the trees, greeted Simona: the Gerli family.
“I could not believe my eyes,” Simona says. Meg, John, and his wife Michelle were hard at work removing the trees. “John had his chain saw going, Michelle and Meg were logging away the cut pieces. I could not believe they came over to my rescue without me asking for help.”
The Gerlis also removed a fallen tree for Simona’s neighbor, who was just as surprised and thankful for the help.
“I feel very blessed to have great friends that care and have gone above and beyond,” Simona says.
After discovering that Hurricane Sandy caused destruction and heartache to one of its own, the Glenville Elementary School quickly banded together to help. The school organized a fundraiser, Hats for Hurricane Sandy, raising money for the Breezy Point Disaster Relief Fund, a grassroots effort which gives 100% of the donations to families affected by Sandy. Students and faculty sported their best hats in exchange for a donation of $1.00 or more. The school raised over $1,000 for the Breeze Point Disaster Relief Fund.
“Our Hats for Hurricane event allowed students the opportunity to demonstrate the Glenville norm of caring for self and others. Students were extremely impressive in voicing their desire to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy and our Hat Day was a tremendous success in raising upwards of $1,000 to support families in the Breezy Point area,” said Marc D'Amico, principal of Glenville School.
“As someone whose immediate family was impacted by the storm, the support from the Glenville Community from day one of this event has been overwhelming and humbling,” says Brigid Freyer, a Glenville parent, whose family was affected in Breezy Point. “To see the children so eager to help other children Sandy was heartwarming.”
Hike and Help
The Sheldons, a local Greenwich family, turned their weekly hike through Babcock Preserve into a “hike and help” for those devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
“As soon as we returned from our weekly family hike, I immediately sent out an e-mail to about a hundred people requesting them to ‘hike and help.’ They were asked to bring supplies, have a tailgate lunch in the Babcock parking lot, then hike and exchange their own personal stories on surviving Sandy,” says Lisa Sheldon.
Families, friends, and local residents brought supplies, food, and clothing to the lunch, which was organized by the Sheldon family after Lisa’s initial email. The community answered in full force, with a mountain of donations. The family then drove the supplies to a New York City Hurricane Sandy drop-off location.
“Our family felt a sense of community,” Lisa continues. “The result was that many families joined together to support each other in our own backyard, while at the same time, lending whatever help they could to those left homeless, and traumatized shockingly within only a one- to two-hour distance from our own Greenwich, CT. We felt really fortunate to be a part of a caring and generous community of friends and neighbors.”
Kate Dischino helps load supplies into the mobile medical van with Karen Gottlieb.
Relief workers clean the interior of a home | Photograph courtesy of Matthew McDermott
Stamford-based humanitarian aid organization, AmeriCares, has been hard at work since Hurricane Sandy. AmeriCares has delivered dozens of shipments of medical aid and relief supplies to storm-damaged areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. They have supported displaced families, and restored health services in the hardest-hit communities—ultimately assisting more than 100,000 people.
In Staten Island, N.Y., AmeriCares donated sleeping bags to families without heat. In the Rockaways, AmeriCares provided funding for a program that helps homeowners clean out damaged homes. Relief workers delivered medical aid to the Nassau Community College shelter, the largest on Long Island, filled with hundreds of storm survivors. The organization also deployed its mobile clinic to help health care facilities in Staten Island and the Rockaways continue serving the poor and uninsured, despite power outages and storm damage.
Kate Dischino, AmeriCares Emergency Response Manager and Stamford resident, was recently recognized for her work coordinating relief efforts at Glamour’s 2012 Women of the Year Awards in New York City.
“Our relief workers have been tirelessly delivering aid to the people most impacted by Hurricane Sandy,” Kate says. “Right away we began working around the clock to rush emergency supplies such as diapers, hygiene products and medicines to shelters and clinics along the East Coast. Now we are coordinating aid efforts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, including support for volunteers cleaning storm-damaged homes and delivery of warm sleeping bags for those without heat.”
For AmeriCares and Kate, the coming months will be a critical time to support those still struggling after the storm.
Emily Inesta loading clothing and supplies to deliver to Island Park, Long Island | Photos courtesy Emily Inesta
After witnessing the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, Emily Inesta, owner of commercial, residential, and construction cleaning service, Swept Away, quickly contacted friends for donations. After bringing the first collection of supplies, clothing, and food to Long Beach, Emily wanted to continue to help and generously donate her time.
“I got in touch with a friend who lived a few towns away and she told me that Island Park, L.I was the ‘forgotten town.’ My friend and I drove to Island Park Fire House, found the woman in charge, and got a list of exactly what is in need. I quickly called a few of my customers and within a matter of ten minutes I had $900.00. Not only are my customers extremely generous with their money, they trust me without hesitation and that is an incredible feeling,” says Emily.
With the help of generous clients and friends, Emily headed to Island Park, Long Island on three separate occasions with a van full of supplies and an abundance of cleaning products.
“If I could take one thing away from those three trips to Long Island it would be that people are truly amazing. After coming in contact with some of the men and women, that practically give up their lives at home, to run and take care of those in need, I realized they are the ones that truly make this world go round,” adds Emily.
Photos courtesy Dan Woog
The boys’ soccer team at Staples High School in Westport banded together after one of the players’ home was severely damaged by the hurricane. Displaying a great sense of teamwork, nearly forty players helped clean sand and debris left over from the super-storm.
“There's more to life than soccer—but soccer is a part of life,” says head coach Dan Woog. "The circumstances were horrible, but we're glad we had the opportunity to help. We always say that Staples soccer is a family, and in tough times, families rally around each other."
Photo courtesy of Greenwich Library
After Hurricane Sandy, Greenwich Library proved once again that it is a crucial part of the community. The library opened just forty-eight hours after the storm and residents without power and heat flocked to the three branches. Nearly 5,000 patrons visited the main library (which typically averages about 2,000 visitors a day). The other branches also saw increased traffic, with 400 people—including many evacuees— visiting the Byram Shubert Library, and about 850 visiting the Cos Cob Library.
“Under normal circumstances, our libraries are places for education and entertainment,” says Director Carol A. Mahoney. “In times of need we are safe havens, offering everything from outlets to charge electronic devices and Internet access, to a cafe serving simple meals and snacks. Greenwich Library is proud to provide shelter from the storm, and to serve as a warm and welcoming place to relax and meet friends and neighbors.”
Members of the community were grateful for the welcoming environment, many of them taking the time to send a note of thanks to the staff. “Thank you so much for always being a gem in Greenwich,” wrote Jessica Paroly. “And thanks a million times for being such a safe, comforting haven for so many people in need during the period after the storm.”
Sights After Sandy
Greenwich resident, Tracy Sulzer, collected donations from friends and family. She then ventured into Far Rockaway to deliver much-needed supplies to residents. There, two local girls were organizing a drive to help families, amid piles of clothes and other supplies.
Into the Storm
Lori Gilmore, a former Long Island resident, and current pastry chef at Good Food Good Things in Darien, knew she had to help the residents of her old home in whatever way she could.
“On the day I went to Long Island, the gas crisis was in full swing there,” she says. She ventured to a volunteer distribution center in Freeport, where residents could pick up items such as food and clothing. Once Long Beach residents started running out of gas, Lori made multiple trips from Freeport to Long Beach herself, dropping off carloads of supplies.
What she saw still lingers in her memory. “Before I left town, I drove to my old apartment across the street from the beach, and was saddened beyond words to see that it was condemned due to damage…The streets were filled with the belongings of entire households. People seemed to be wandering with a kind of dazed look about them.”
Lori inspired a chain reaction. After showing her pictures to friends and loved ones, others felt compelled to organize their own donation deliveries.
“The effort has snowballed so furiously that I'm no longer even aware of how many people have now taken it upon themselves to start collections and volunteer caravans of their own,” Lori says. Searching for a glimmer of hope, she adds, “There's this sense of togetherness in crisis and tragedy that is so powerful and pervasive.”
Walking through the ghost of Main Street during the week following the hurricane, you might have noticed a sign on the entrances of iFloat, a specialty spa located above Oscar’s Deli. Do you need a place to stay with electricity? Owners Andrew Shinn and David Conneely invited community members into their home, by literally posting their phone numbers on Main Street. Their hope was to offer a place to relax, charge cell phones, cook, shower, and sleep for those touched by the storm. Even total strangers.
"We e-mailed our clients as soon as we heard how bad things were on Tuesday morning. We opened our home, and later our business to those needing a place to stay, use the Internet, shower, do laundry or simply looking for bit of relief or home cooked meal. We had some very happy takers and I don’t think I have heard a teenage girl so grateful as to have been able to wash her hair!" said Andrew and David.
Jannell Bakrow, Cynthia Kempner, and Lucy Stitzer. (back row) Virginia Marzonie, Maris Pascal, Nancy Sarnoff Williams, Leigh Carpenter, Kathy Slocum, Sherrill Kellam, and Ellen Breed | Photograph by Kathy Slocum
Volunteers and local garbage collectors uniting over a common good | Photograph coursety of Ellen Breed
Ellen Breed of Greenwich knew that she wanted to help out the victims of Hurricane Sandy, she just wasn’t sure how. She started networking, with the help of her husband Allan. Soon, her search led her to Megan Delmar, head coordinator of the Staten Island Recreational Association, who was overworked and running out of supplies.
Ellen sent out an email to thirty friends from Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, and Rye. “I asked for supplies but most importantly manpower,” she says. Ellen’s call to action quickly reached fifty people. She then enlisted her sister, Amy Gerry, to help organize the group.
On Wednesday, November 15th, fifteen volunteers ventured to Staten Island to meet Megan and help. “We were assigned to numerous homes to do what was needed, thinking we would hand out supplies or help with cleaning,” Ellen says. “What we found was complete destruction. Many homes covered with mold…Water still sitting in many homes for two weeks, owners just sitting in their living rooms not knowing what to do.” The women went door to door, offering help.
They hauled waterlogged furniture. They helped one woman, left only with her pets, begin the sobering process of sifting through her belongings. Items in one basement were soaked in oil from a container that had tipped over. The volunteers didn’t think twice. “The group moved everything and commandeered a sanitation truck to remove all the debris!” Ellen says. When Ellen looks back on her experience—the first of what is sure to be many for the group—it’s clear that she’s touched others as much as they have touched her.
“We found resilience in these Staten Island people who had nothing and were getting no help,” she says. “We met new friends that so appreciated our little time. My group met Angelo, who had put everything into his home with no insurance, and was losing hope. His uncle said, as we were hammering his walls and dragging his wet drywall to the curb, ‘Thank God for you girls, you have given him some hope.’”
Although many businesses were forced to close during and after the hurricane, some opened their doors to help residents feel a sense of normalcy.
Local restaurant, Barcelona, opened its Stamford and South Norwalk locations to serve residents Tuesday afternoon during Super Storm Sandy. The restaurant was crowded with busy people typing away at laptops, while snacking on food from home, or enjoying some of Barcelona’s tasty bites.
"Thankfully, we weren't terribly affected by the storm,” says Ria Rueda, director of marketing at Barteca Restaurant Group. “We were up and running on Tuesday at 12:00 to serve the community so guests could re-charge their electronics and use the restrooms to freshen up with no purchase necessary. After a few days, we offered people the opportunity to use our high-powered dishwashers to sterilize items.”
For locals struggling with a lack of power, the charity and friendliness of Barcelona provided a welcoming space.
Katie Boland, Lindsey Reilly Morton, and Kelly Niznansky | Photographs by Lindsey Edwards
On November 4th, Katie Boland, Lindsey Reilly Morton, and Kelly Niznansky—three friends who grew up together in Fairfield—had an idea. They wanted to gather a few others and help clean the devastated Fairfield Beach area, a place home to so many good memories.
Kelly created a Facebook page for a cleanup event, slated for Sunday the 11th. The women invited a friends, thinking they would be lucky to get one hundred volunteers. Each day, more people flocked to the page. They offered donations of garbage bags, gloves, and wheelbarrows. Others donated money for supplies. Most importantly, the number of volunteers skyrocketed.
“We never imagined it to grow as large as it was!” Katie, a teacher at Trumbull High School, says. Three hundred. Then, five hundred, almost overnight. The Fairfield Police, schools, civic organizations, and more pledged their support. By Sunday over one thousand volunteers flocked the battered neighborhood, looking to help.
“The entire day was truly amazing,” Katie says. “The outpouring of love and support from our entire community was uplifting and gave me and many others hope for our humanity…I can't thank enough all the restaurants that brought over dishes or entire trucks of food, individuals who brought supplies and food for the volunteers, the Fairfield Police and Fire Department who helped with all the logistics, Rep. Tony Hwang who not only supported us with getting donations, but also spent the entire day on site, and the thousand plus volunteers who left the sweat and love in the Fairfield Beach Area.”
For the Children
Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles watches as Kelly, eight, plays with staff member Petra Aldrich in the Atlantic City Convention Center | Photograph courtesy of Save the Children
Sometimes the best way to help a distressed child is to help them feel like a kid again. Which is why Westport-based organization, Save the Children created child-friendly spaces in shelters filled with families hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. Together with FEMA, the Red Cross, and New York and New Jersey partners, Save the Children established safe play areas at the Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y., the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, N.J., and elsewhere. These spaces allow children to enjoy age-appropriate activities such as crafts and games. Through the healing power of play, children feel moments of lightness during such heavy times.
To support Save the Children’s response to immediate and ongoing needs following the storm, donate to the Hurricane Sandy Children in Emergencies Fund by visiting savethechildren.org/sandy or text HURRICANE to 20222 to donate $10 from your mobile phone. When you receive a text message, reply YES.
A Welcome Home
Family and friends enjoying the comforts of the Salvati home | Photo courtesy Marylou Salvati
Many people opened their doors to friends and loved ones who found themselves without power following Hurricane Sandy. But how many would open their home for a week, helping dozens of displaced people? Marylou and Mike Salvati of New Canaan did just that.
“We didn’t think twice,” Marylou says. “I’m from a big family and this is what you do.”
For a week, the Salvati residence was a port in the storm. People came by to enjoy hot showers and do laundry. Others slept over. When all the beds were taken, visitors slept on the floor. Marylou whipped up comfort food like chili and lasagna, feeding ten to twenty hungry visitors each night. “The meals weren’t exactly gourmet,” she says, before adding, “but we went through a lot of wine!”
It was only when her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Queally, started to take down names, that they realized that fifty-five people had entered the Salvati home during the week. And that’s only counting the names, not the number of times each person came by.
“The entire time she just kept shopping and cooking and welcoming others,” Elizabeth says. “It was simple, but to me, truly remarkable.”
Although Hurricane Sandy cast a dark cloud over communities, one local non-profit showed its true charitable colors. Inspirica, located in Stamford, is no stranger to fighting homelessness, providing shelter to 240 people every night and serving 500-600 people each year. During the storm, Inspirica provided a safe haven, where staff members served the 90-120 displaced individuals with three meals a day, including a big turkey dinner. The staff also created a Halloween haven where kids could safely trick or treat, and enjoy Halloween goodies donated by Fairway Market.
“Hurricane Sandy really brought home what it means to be homeless,” says Inspirica CEO, Jason Shaplen. “So many people were suddenly without heat, protection from the rain, and a roof over their heads. It’s a horrible situation in which to find oneself. But that’s what the people we serve feel every day. They never have a home, heat, protection from the elements. They never feel safe. It really underscores the important work Inspirica does.”
With so many people still struggling to return to their normal lives, Inspirica continues to work towards breaking the cycle of homelessness.
PTA President Elect Christi McEldowney, Event Organizer Jennifer Jacobsen, and Principal Eileen Roxbee | photograph by Jennifer Jacobsen
On Wednesday, November 9th—the first day back to school after Hurricane Sandy—the mood at Roger Sherman Elementary School was somber. “At that time, on Wednesday, there were forty-one families of ours that basically lost their homes,” says Jennifer Jacobsen, a member of the PTA and the school’s community outreach coordinator. “We’re not just talking a flooded basement…It’s ‘now our home is condemned.’”
Jennifer and the others quickly organized ways to help families. But Jennifer, committed to empowering and educating children, was concerned about the students. They needed a purpose, something to help them cope with the tragedy.
Her plan, announced later that day, was that students could “go shopping” in their bedrooms for items to donate. Toys, pajamas, puzzles—anything. Volunteers would organize the donations and set up a “store” on Friday afternoon, where families in need could shop for items.
What Jennifer—or anyone—didn’t count on was the huge response. Everyone, it seemed, spread the word. “We were so overrun by Friday morning with donations,” she says. A problem she was happy to have. Rooms and halls of the school brimmed with bags of items—even while carloads waited in the parking lot.
“It was overwhelming and a lot of work,” Jennifer says. She, other members of the PTA, PTA President-Elect Christi McEldowney, school principal Eileen Roxbee, and volunteers spent hours organizing and shopping for families. Tasked with emptying the school by late Friday afternoon, volunteers packed cars and trucks to deliver items to organizations like the Burroughs Community Center, and hard-hit areas such as Long Island.
What started off as a way to help Sherman families blossomed into something huge, all in less than forty-eight hours.
“I can’t even believe the gratitude our school feels that the whole town came out to support our school so quickly,” Jennifer says. “I personally am so thankful to my principal, my PTA, and all the parents that showed up to help me with what I never could’ve handled on my own.”