Porcelain sinks and leather couches, family photos and TVs tumbled onto former housing lots where only brick staircases remain in Staten Island’s Midland Beach, the neighborhood slammed by the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s wrath. With temperatures dropping into the 30s, people burned kitchen chairs for warmth.
“I saw people’s lives on their lawns,” said Michael Neely, assistant to the director of Catholic Charities Staten Island. He and his boss, Joe Panepinto, director of Catholic Charities Staten Island, used phones, Facebook, family and friends to pull together a small army of more than 100 Catholic Charities staff, CYO coaches and volunteers last weekend to help hundreds of those hurt by the hurricane begin to rebuild their lives.
They began on Saturday with a map of Midland Beach. They split themselves into groups of three, then went lot to lot to learn what storm victims needed most. Mr. Neely manned a cell phone, sent staff, CYO coaches and volunteers to pick up water, clothing, blankets, whatever folks said they needed most, and sent another group to deliver these supplies.
To take the pulse of what else was needed Mr. Panepinto went that night to mass at Holy Rosary Parish, a church in the South Beach section of Staten Island that lost parishioners to the storm. Mr. Neely met with others there the following morning.
One of the volunteers, David Cardinale, president of USATees and a retired New York City firefighter, knocked on the door of an elderly couple who told him that they smelled gas. Mr. Cardinale entered the home, asked for a pair of pliers and turned off four pilot lights on the stove that could have blown up the house at any point.
The group reconvened on Sunday at the expansive parking lot on the corner of Fr. Capodanno Blvd. and Hunter Ave. in Midland Beach where FEMA, the mayor’s office and a host of other groups and organizations had set up tents. They helped organize mountains of donations – from hot pizzas, to down coats and disposable diapers – that came streaming in from nearby New Yorkers and donors with license plates from as far away as North Carolina.
The Catholic Charities agencies in conjunction with the entire Archdiocese of New York is working closely with FEMA and other first responders to maximize resources available to those hit hard by the storm, non Catholics and Catholics alike.
“It’s like a war zone,” Mr. Neely said, “like something I never thought I would live long enough to see.”
Do you need help?
- Call Catholic Charities Toll-free Helpline: (888) 744-7900.
- Click here for more resources and information
Would you like to help others recover?