Volunteers scour Rockaways

By Karen Frantz

In the dark stairwell of a powerless high-rise apartment in the Rockaways, three storm relief volunteers started the long climb up nine flights of stairs.

“At least it will be a good workout,” said Jessica Hazard, a licensed social worker.

Hazard, along with James Martin and Caleb Porter, both homeless outreach workers, were in the storm-battered neighborhood earlier this month making door-to-door checks on residents who had been without power for nearly two weeks to see if they needed medical help.

And as they found, volunteering in the Rockaways can present logistical challenges and sometimes unnerving dead-ends but also the rewards of gratitude from those they help.

The three work with the Manhattan-based Goddard Riverside Community Center, which was coordinating relief efforts with the Yana Medical Center, a makeshift medical site organized by volunteers from Occupy Sandy, a grassroots disaster aid group.

They and several other volunteers were spending the day checking in on patients who had previously visited the Yana center to make sure they were still okay and to update their medical information.

Before they were sent out, Hazard, Martin, Porter and the other volunteers were given a brief lesson at the Yana site, on Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 113th Street, on how to work with the patients.

“These folks have been forgotten about,” Nastaran Mohit, a lead organizer at Yana, told them. “This is Katrina 2.0.”

One volunteer asked what to do if they knocked on a door and received no answer but smelled something troubling.

“Listen, it’s been a lot of time,” Mohit said. “We’re hoping for the best, but we don’t know.”

She told volunteers not to necessarily think the worst — it could just be a dead cat, she said — but if they found anything disturbing they should immediately call back to the center.

The volunteers were given flashlights and forms and sent on their way.

Sometime later, Hazard, Martin and Porter had made the long climb up the stairs to check on their first patient, Theodore.

Porter knocked on the door.

“Hello? Outreach,” called Porter.


“He must not be home,” Martin said.

“Hopefully,” Porter responded, then knocked again.

“There’s no smell. I can’t smell anything,” Martin said.

The three looked at each other warily and reluctantly continued to the next apartment, where there was also no answer.

Eventually, the group got hold of a relative of Theodore’s, Mary Liz, who lives in the same building and was listed as a second contact. She invited them in, apologizing for untidiness. “It looks like the hurricane hit in here,” she said.

She explained that Theodore was out checking on his father, but was able to list off his medications for the volunteers.

She cheerfully chatted about her storm experience and rolled her eyes about what she said was a poor Federal Emergency Management Agency and Red Cross presence in the early aftermath of the storm.

But overall, she said, most people were helpful. And she thought what Hazard, Porter and Martin were doing was “so cool.”

As the volunteers left, she called to them, “Thank you very, very much for your generosity.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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