On the morning after Hurricane Sandy hit, I took a slow drive around Woodhaven to assess the damage. My first stop was Forest Parkway to confirm the rumor I heard earlier that morning that the winds had toppled the nearly 100-foot holiday tree.
It was a surreal feeling seeing this massive symbol of our holidays, its deep roots ripped from the ground.
We were hit hard here in Woodhaven. There were dozens of trees down, in many cases causing great damage to homes. In other cases, they pulled down wires leaving residents without power for days.
But from what we were hearing, we were lucky; Woodhaven got off lightly. We heard horrible stories of people losing their lives. We heard many more stories of people losing everything they owned.
So the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association opened their office and launched a modest relief effort. Or that was the plan, anyway, because what the residents of Woodhaven ended up accomplishing together was anything but modest.
From the moment we put out the word that we were collecting items for the families in need, people began flocking to the office, dropping off clothes and canned food and cleaning supplies.
We received one call from a gentleman who was just checking that we were in the office. An hour later he pulled up with nearly two-dozen cases of bottled water.
Meanwhile, the clothing was piling up and we were having a hard time managing it. Along came this young woman who was looking for ways to help, and she took over the clothing table.
She organized everything and set up a system she showed to other volunteers and it truly paid off. When we were dropping off the donated clothing, we witnessed gigantic piles of unsorted clothing donated by other groups and organizations.
But our donations were sorted and the bags were labeled: Ladies Pants Small, Men’s Shirts Large, Children’s Pants, etc. It helped relieve the burden of those accepting the donations. They had enough on their plate without having to sort through piles of unorganized clothing.
During our many trips to the Rockaways, we asked people what they needed and we did our best to respond. When the folks at St. Helen’s said residents really needed brooms, we took some of the money that people had donated and bought about six-dozen brooms at Home Depot and drove it back that very night.
People were so very generous with their money. Former residents of Woodhaven who lived far away made donations via PayPal. Other people stopped into the office and dropped off money. One little girl came into the office with her father with the contents of her piggy bank.
Miss Judy Graves stood in front of the office, and over the course of a day collected hundreds of dollars in fives, tens and singles. And every penny was used to purchase supplies we delivered directly to those who needed it.
In the end, the money that was left over was donated to a soccer league in the Rockaways to help replenish the supplies they lost in the storm.
One of the best nights was a flashlight vigil we held at the base of the fallen tree. Instead of candles, people brought flashlights and batteries, which were dropped off in a bin and delivered to the impact zone the next morning.
It’s important to remember and acknowledge how the residents of this community came together to help others. And it’s very fitting that the anniversary of that devastating storm falls so close to Election Day because everyone pulled together. We weren’t Democrats or Republicans. We weren’t defined by our skin color or our nationality or our religions.
We were good people doing what comes natural to good people. We were helping neighbors in need. But sadly, the further and further we get away from that awful storm, more and more people seem to forget that we can disagree and be good people.