Remembering Staten Island on Thanksgiving

We carefully inch our way through the chaos at the intersection of Midland Avenue and Hylan Boulevard. Cars on the opposite side do the same.  The traffic lights dangle overhead without power, unable to keep order. Further down the debris-lined street, the scene repeats intersection after intersection as we approach Midland Beach.

I spent the first ten years of my life in Staten Island. Returning to these streets, after Hurricane Sandy, brought back a flurry of memories from my youth.  The neighborhoods are obviously not quite as I remember.  Soaked and contaminated debris, furniture and rubble line the streets as hazmat-geared workers rummage through still-flooded buildings. Sand, mud and water puddles defiantly remain as a testament to 20-foot tidal surges that slammed the island.

People are out and about, many gathering and distributing supplies while others are wandering around, aimlessly with bewilderment and an almost post-apocalyptic zombie-like gaze on their faces.

Watching news footage of Staten Island’s devastation left my wife, Joyce, and I with a sense of nagging guilt.  While we weathered the storm with minor damage and sporadic loss of electricity, the comfort of heat and hot water in our home was a far cry from conditions Staten Island residents were experiencing a mere twenty miles away.  We needed to do something to help.

With temperatures dipping below freezing at night, we formulated a plan to gather supplies, drive to Staten Island and get them directly into the hands of residents in immediate need.  Faced with a gas shortage and a 1970’s OPEC crisis-styled gas rationing in NJ that led to lines often exceeding a mile, we took the safe bet and drove out to unaffected Bangor, PA to top off our tank and several back-up gas cans.

Within two hours of making the announcement of our supply drive on Facebook, our front porch was littered with donations.  We had friends that purchased baby formula, diapers, water and batteries, all the while sacrificing their own limited gas stock to brave stores with limited supplies. Neighbors donated warm coats, clothing, towels, blankets, canned food, cookies, crackers, juice, children’s clothing, backpacks and teddy bears.  Our friend Rachel drove over thirty miles to supplement our supplies and volunteer her time with us in Staten Island.  When all was said and done, we had enough supplies to completely fill every nook and cranny of our car.

Greeted by a swarm of city officials, volunteers and local citizens at Midland Beach, one of New York City’s Office of Emergency Management’s staging points for relief efforts in Staten Island, we scrambled to load supplies onto an MTA bus for distribution directly to the area’s citizens.

Here are photos of our experience:

Work crews removing contaminated furniture from buildings along Midland Avenue, Staten Island.

Debris lining streets in Staten Island.

Burned down storefront on Midland Avenue, Staten Island

 

New York City’s Mobile Emergency Management trailer for Midland Beach, Staten Island

Joyce passing on supplies to a volunteer.

Supplies getting sorted in Midland Beach, Staten Island

Storm debris in Midland Beach, Staten Island.

Local residents supplying free food, drinks and water.

Four weeks after Hurricane Sandy, most of us in the New York metro area have returned to normalcy – the daily work grind, prepping for the holidays and life as we knew it prior to the storm.  Residents of Staten Island, the Jersey Shore and other affected areas of Sandy sadly don’t have this same privilege.  As I sit down tonight for Thanksgiving dinner, my thoughts go out to the people of Staten Island. I am also touched to be surrounded by people who have given, sacrificed and donated in difficult times to help others in dire circumstances.  For this, I am extremely thankful.

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Staten Island still needs our help.  If you’re interested in volunteering, please visit: http://occupysandystatenisland.tumblr.com/

2 Comments on “Remembering Staten Island on Thanksgiving

  1. It’s sadly so easy to sit warm and snug while so many are still homeless with no utilities an no short term end in sight. We truly are counting our blessings today and praying for those on the east coast.

  2. Our old home on Staten Island should have been high and dry but I can’t say what the winds did to that area. We have a lot of fond memories of the area. Your mom and I are proud of what you did to help. Keep up the good work.

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