Gas utility gives sweet assist to ravaged Rockaway factory

By Steve Mosco

How sweet it is.

A confectioner with a rich Rockaway Beach history hopes to start churning out chocolate again soon after receiving aid money from National Grid this week.

The Madeline Chocolate Co., a staple in the community for 60 years and employer of 450 people, found itself shutdown and in shambles after Hurricane Sandy blew through the region Oct. 29.

The day before the superstorm hit, owner and operator Jorge Farber said his business was pushing out 100,000 pounds of the sweet stuff every day, but since then his kitchens have gone quiet and his operation has gone sour.

“We missed one of the biggest seasons in the candy industry,” said Farber, referring to Valentine’s Day and Easter, holidays virtually built on sweets. “If we cannot get going for next Halloween, we are going to be in trouble.”

To help Farber and his wife Vivian and Norman Gold, who are his business partners, National Grid presented Madeline with a check for $250,000 — cash Farber said will immediately go toward restoring a major machine in one of his kitchens that produces a range of candy shapes and molds.

“When Sandy hit, we made a promise to the Rockaways to do everything we can to help rebuild,” said Ken Daly, president of National Grid. “Madeline gives so much to this community, we felt it was time we gave a little back to them.”

National Grid’s relief aid to Madeline is part of a larger effort to assist the hardest hit gas customers in the city and on Long Island. The gas utility launched a $30 million aid program in November, with residential customers receiving the first wave of relief.

The three-tiered program first provided critical early stage emergency funding to help the most severely affected residential customers; next, funding went toward the residential rebuilding process; and finally, in the third tier, commercial properties are getting assistance.

Farber said he is still unsure if he will receive aid from the recently passed Senate bill, but he hopes to rehire many of his former employees after the cash infusion, but unfortunately not all of the 450 workers will have a job right away. Of Madeline’s eight production rooms and 14 molding lines, only one will reopen in the coming months.

But that one room will be enough to roll out Madeline’s line of Halloween treats in time for October, nearly one year after Sandy surged over the Rockaways.

“If we were to lose Halloween, it would make it that much harder to ever reopen,” said Farber, adding that damages to the 200,000-square-foot factory from the storm figured in the high millions. “It has been a long journey just to this point and, without this money, the journey would be even longer.”

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

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