Far Rockaway residents find help and hope after storm

Far Rockaway residents find help and hope after storm
Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

The hardship rises when the sun goes down in Far Rockaway.

“It gets cold, real cold,” said Latesha Williams, as she dug through rows of donated winter coats in the parking lot of the Thrift Way strip mall, at 20-52 Mott Ave. “The floor feels like ice when the heat’s not working. It gets so cold it’s all you think about.”

Williams’ house in the seaside community was one of many still without power Saturday, when hundreds of residents lined up to browse through all sorts of donated items as young and energetic volunteers guided them through a maze of wares. Powerless in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, residents filled bags with paper towels, cleaning products, bathroom items, baby products, canned goods, children’s toys and clothes.

The event was organized by Reshma Saujani, the deputy advocate for Special Initiatives at the city public advocate office and executive director of the Fund for Public Advocacy, in conjunction with We Care NYC, a city agency that helps people on public assistance. Donations came from New York Tech Meetup, I Love My LIFE, Flavorpill, Pencils of Promise and other nonprofit organizations, small businesses and advocates in the city.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time here in Far Rockaway checking on residents,” said Saujani, who handed out sandwiches with singer John Legend. “It’s been close to two weeks since a lot of these people had power — all that time with no heat and no hot food — so we are here to give them what they need.”

Aside from volunteer-donated household items and clothes, food trucks provided hot meals to the storm-weary residents. City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), along with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Councilmen Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) and Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), listened to the plight of the people while dishing donated food.

“Far Rockaway caught hell in the hurricane, but what we gained from this is a new appreciation for being alive,” said Sanders. “And we are seeing the American people pouring their hearts out to our community.”

Those visiting the community also expressed concern for business in Far Rockaway, with Jack Friedman, executive director of the Queens Borough Chamber of Commerce, advocating for business improvement following the storm.

“Some businesses may never reopen following the storm and we might have to think about starting over and supporting the future of the neighborhood,” he said. “We want this to be a viable area for business.”

Sandy’s sting is seen throughout the Far Rockaway neighborhood in shuttered businesses and debris-cluttered sidewalks. Streetlights on Mott Avenue remained dark as drivers cautiously navigated busy intersections manned by dedicated police officers.

But despite the daily challenges they have grown accustomed to dealing with, residents embraced the opportunity to stock up on supplies, fill their bellies with grub and dance with their neighbors in defiance of Sandy’s shadow.

“This is the best I’ve felt since the storm,” said Devon Ridgley, who went from resident in need to impromptu volunteer. “It’s good to see so many smiling faces under a bright sun and blue sky.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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