Big-hearted people help Sandy victims during the holidays


Cans of vegetables and boxes of macaroni brought Linda DeSabato to tears.

DeSabato, owner of Vallo Transportation, engineered her company’s first Thanksgiving food drive, weeks after Superstorm Sandy drowned hopes of traditional festivities for thousands.

Within days of announcing the drive, crates of sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and jugs of apple cider, donated by a roster of generous employees, inundated the lobby of her Whitestone office — reminders of why holidays exist.

“It’s about the spirit of thanks and giving and gratitude so that the tradition of Thanksgiving goes on,” said DeSabato. “People have lost a tremendous amount but there’s always something to be thankful for.”

On Tuesday, November 20, members of non-profit food source The River Fund NY collected the donations from DeSabato’s office, adding them to what will create a Thanksgiving meal for many of Sandy’s victims, striving to retain some semblance of the holiday season.

“It’s a sense of normalcy,” said DeSabato. “It’s done every year. It’s warm, it’s fuzzy and even in the worst times it makes people feel good.”

Swami Durga Das, director of The River Fund NY, has travelled to storm ravaged neighborhoods almost daily since Sandy struck, leading caravans of food, batteries and diapers to over 700 families.

“We’ve been a busy little group,” he said.

On Monday, The River Fund NY assembled 2,000 turkeys to be distributed to people in the Rockaways. On Thanksgiving, the group will distribute 1,000 holiday meals to Averne residents.

After days of meals of applesauce, raisins and tuna fish, The River Fund NY volunteers searched for an item that required no cooking. An unlikely donation led the group to dispense packages of blankets, hygiene kits and cheesecake.

“The cheesecake knocked it out of the park,” said Durga Das. “That was like the item.”

As residents lined up for cheesecake, a World War II veteran, displaced from his home in the Rockaways, hobbled up to Durga Das on his walker and asked him for a piece.

He gave him two.

“There’s a military guy, older gentleman, and it was like ‘Wow a cheesecake, this is making someone happy.’”

Durga Das is no stranger to helping during a crisis. For the first four months after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Durga Das fed first responders, assembling a station near Ground Zero to hand out meals to those cleaning up debris and searching for victims.

“It gave you the same feeling,” said Durga Das. “Really devastated and destroyed. Your food, your shelter, everything. For everyone it’s painful.”

In the wake of the fast-approaching holidays, Durga Das said his group and others like it aim to bring aspects of the holidays to displaced residents and to detract from hard times.

“[Holidays] have that kind of consistency,” said Durga Das. “Things will be OK. You have to keep those things going.”

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