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Nov 13, 2012 3:01 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

The East End Does Care About Sandy's Victims

East End Cares Helps Out In Rockaway
East End Cares Helps Out In Rockaway
Nov 13, 2012 4:02 PM

The traffic lights on Cross Bay Boulevard were out, boats lay on their sides and lines of cars were beached on the median—abandoned by residents or parked by visitors trying to help restore some sort of normalcy to the Rockaway peninsula?

You could still smell fire in Belle Harbor Friday. “Nothing here to take. U R 2 late,” the plywood on a shuttered McDonald’s advised. Police officers wore dust masks as they directed Bobcat operators moving mounds of sand and clawing at piles of rubble in front of each house, each pile hinting at a life inside—a folding chair, a Jesus statue, Thomas the Tank Engine furniture—but also mixed in with broken sheetrock and insulation and sand and ocean debris. The ruins of a burned-out house and van stood next to St. Francis De Sales Church, whose still-powerless school has been converted to a relief center buzzing with volunteers, some of whose leaders barked orders through megaphones, New York police officers and the National Guard, delivery trucks and military trucks and streams of displaced residents lining up for warm food, nonperishables, cleaning supplies and clothing in the school gymnasium.

The scene had been worse, far less organized, just three days earlier, said Jeannine Logie and Caroline Wilkinson Midson of East End Cares, who were making a return trip from Montauk to help out on Friday. The ad-hoc relief group had sent a Hampton Jitney bus up on a frigid November 6 and led a group of nine departing from East Hampton Town Hall on Friday; another trip with another borrowed bus and a mountain of sandwiches, plus supplies and volunteers, was planned for Tuesday. By Friday, National Grid and Con Edison were on the scene working to restore power, and the New York City Departments of Transportation and Sanitation were clearing sand and wreckage in an attempt to make the streets passable again in Belle Harbor.

“People were saying, ‘Where’s the government?’ Where IS the government?’” Patricia Robinson of Westhampton Beach, a volunteer with Occupy Sandy, said on Monday of the voyages she and others had taken to a different section of the Rockaways on Saturday and earlier last week. “I noticed a huge difference from Tuesday to Saturday,” Ms. Robinson said, “a different level of desperation, quiet desperation.”

An offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and locally of Occupy the East End, East End Occupy Sandy had so far dispatched 20 or more carloads, including a pickup truck from eastern Long Island and an old camper loaded with supplies driven from Michigan by two men. The organization has a storefront hub in Ronkonkoma and a “wedding registry” on Amazon.com (there’s a link at http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/) where people can donate necessities like packs of batteries, gas cans and gallons of bleach. A box truck full of donations was sent from New Hampshire down to Ronkonkoma last week, and people from Occupy Oakland drove from California with live streaming equipment to get the word out on places like Global Revolution TV. “People were watching from all over the world,” said Ms. Robinson.

Working mostly with Occupy Sandy at St. Gertrude’s Church in Rockaway, the group has sent approximately five carloads of supplies per day, including more than 500 cases of water, from the Ronkonkoma storefront since November 1, she said.

“This was the projects,” she said. “It’s beyond traditional disaster relief. This community is going to be in trouble like Katrina.” She added, “It’s going to be a long haul.”

Ms. Robinson has been traveling with Robert Shainwald of North Sea, Christian Stevens of Sag Harbor and Jackie Ostrander of Hampton Bays. In the 1938 hurricane, Ms. Robinson said, her father rescued people in Westhampton Beach from the roof of a house that landed later in the day in Quogue. “So this is the least I can do,” she said.

On one trip Ms. Robinson worked at sorting clothes and suggesting items for victims of the storms— “‘I’ve got this cool jacket in size 8,’ pulling out the good stuff,” she said, to lift spirits with “an element of people getting out and shopping.”

“That was not going down on Saturday,” she said, explaining that the people she was trying to cheer up were not getting Social Security checks and still had no place to buy food almost two weeks after the first storm. “Women were grabbing baby formula,” she said. Residents were isolated from Manhattan by the shutdown in public transportation, some stranded in apartment buildings without running water, elevators, lights or heat. “If you’re in a 20-story high-rise and you’re disabled or elderly....” Ms. Robinson started to say; she called it “a humanitarian crisis.”

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