Posts Tagged ‘Project Hospitality’

“We lost everything,” Says This Sandy Survivor. “And when I say everything I mean everything.”

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

DCM Valeriya Osipova

By Alice Kenny

Evelyn Schwabacher, 51, and her son, Dominic, 23, were left with nothing but the bags of clothes they ran out of their home with the day that Hurricane Sandy struck Staten Island.

Ms. Schwabacher lived almost all her life in a two-story home on Zustan St. in New Dorp Beach, Staten Island.  She grew up there.  She returned there and raised with help from her parents her son and daughter after her husband died 18 years ago.  And she said goodbye to her mother there when the elderly woman died a year before Hurricane Sandy stormed through the island.

But when ocean water filled the house all the way up to its second floor destroying all she owned, multiple disaster relief agencies told her she was ineligible for help.

“We lost everything,” Ms. Schwabacher said.  ”And when I say everything I mean everything.”

The only belongings that survived were two photos that hung above their fireplace mantle, one of her children and one of her parents taken the day they married.  For days following the flood, her father carried that wedding photo with him wherever he went.

FEMA gave Ms. Schwabacher’s eighty-year-old father enough to enable him to leave Staten Island and its memories behind.  He bought an inexpensive condo in Florida and began a new life.

But FEMA said that Ms. Schwabacher and her son, who together paid her father a nominal $400/month rent, were ineligible for disaster recovery assistance.  So she contacted Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager Valeriya Osipova for help. Ms. Osipova contacted Red Cross.  The agency initially approved, then reversed its approval of rental assistance, citing FEMA’s determination as its reason for denial.  Ms. Osipova also spoke with an attorney Staten Island Legal Services.

Meanwhile, things turned ugly in the apartment that Ms. Schwabacher and her son temporarily shared with a friend after the hurricane hit. So she called Ms. Osipova on a Saturday afternoon to ask that she help her move out quickly. Ms. Osipova worked with the social service agency, Project Hospitality, to immediately obtain and pay for a rental room at Cosmopolitan Hotel for Ms. Schwabacher and her son.

They stayed at the hotel for two weeks.  But they needed a long-range plan.  They could not afford to live on their own with the income Ms. Schwabacher earned as a waitress and he earned working minimum wage jobs.  Similar to her father, she wanted, she said, to put behind her the nightmare of Hurricane Sandy and the hard times that followed.

A cousin living in Stone Mountain, Georgia suggested Ms. Schwabacher and her son move there where rents are cheap and jobs are plentiful.  Since Ms. Schwabacher had no savings, her disaster case manager made the move possible by drawing on Sandy relief funds to cover Ms. Schwabacher’s rental deposit and first month’s rent.

Ms. Schwabacher phoned Ms. Osipova for help on a Saturday afternoon.  Thanks to the support and counseling Ms. Osipova provided, Ms. Schwabacher and her son moved to Georgia, found work and rented an apartment two weeks later.  Ms. Schwabacher and her son drove with a cousin to Georgia.  She interviewed for a waitressing job at a local International House of Pancakes the following day.   She and her son then found an affordable one-bedroom apartment.  The $900 deposit and first month’s rent were paid with Catholic Charities Sandy Relief funds.   Meanwhile, Ms. Schabacher’s son applied for multiple jobs and expects to land one at Wal-Mart.

“It’s still hard for me to believe that within 20 days of calling Catholic Charities for help I was able to land a job, find an apartment and began my life again,” Ms. Schwabacher said.   “Valeriya stood by me; if it weren’t for her, I had no place to go.”

Electrocuted During Hurricane Sandy, Survivor Struggles to Recover

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

 By Alice Kenny

Leaning on his black cane, Fujimoto Takashi, 64, struggles to pronounce words that convey the terror he felt the afternoon his basement apartment in Midland Beach, Staten Island, morphed into a whirlpool of chairs, refrigerator, motion and mementos.

Born in Hiroshima four years after the atom bomb was dropped there, Mr. Takashi already knew devastation first hand.  He grew up believing, he said, that if he could make his way to the United States he would find a safe place to thrive.

For a long time, his plan seemed to work.  Mr. Takashi moved to California in 1977.  He developed a career as a photographer.  And he later made his home in Staten Island.

Never did he suspect, he said, that a disaster spurred by nature and not by man would nearly kill him. But when Hurricane Sandy tore through Staten Island, the subsequent flooding inside his basement apartment electrocuted and nearly drowned him.  It destroyed his health, his home and his means of making a living.

“Growing up in Hiroshima I helped other people and felt their pain; now others are feeling my pain,” Mr. Takashi said.  “Catholic Charities gave me the encouragement I needed to not give up.”

Monday, October 29, began like most days, Mr. Takashi said.  He was fixing a camera light plugged into the wall of in his Andrews Street apartment.

Suddenly he noticed water pouring in under his front door.  He grabbed for the camera light plug.

But it was too late.  Electrical currents bore through his right calf.  They shot in one end, out the other and left a hole as their memento.   He suffered a stroke, he recalled, then passed out.

He awoke to the taste of salt water, bouncing on furniture that floated five feet above the floor.  His right arm and leg no longer functioned.

“Help me!” Fuji shouted.

Hurricane winds and neighbors’ panic smothered his screams.  Night came and went. Fifteen hours passed.  Water receded.  His energy waned.

Finally, at 10:30 the following morning, his landlord knocked on his door.

Much of what happened next is blur, he said.  An ambulance rushed him to some hospital – he can’t remember which.  Later he was transferred to Staten Island University Hospital. For 38 days doctors treated burns that covered much of his body and physical and mental repercussions from his stroke.  Finally, he was transferred to Golden Gate Nursing Home where therapists began teaching him how to walk again.

After two months in a hospital and rehabilitation center, he was released to go home.

But everything had changed.  Hurricane Sandy stole much of his memory and mobility.  It destroyed his photographic equipment, stealing his livelihood.  And it tore apart his home, leaving his furniture, clothing – all he owned – rotting and covered with mold.

“When I came back home I had nothing,” Mr. Takashi said.

His landlord gave him a blanket and an air mattress.  But the mattress leaked.

“It was like sleeping on the floor,” Fuji added.

Fortunately, an associate of Fuji’s learned of his plight and called Catholic Charities for help.

Catholic Charities Staten Island has taken a leadership role in partnering with nonprofit organizations to speed services and support to residents of this borough devastated by Hurricane Sandy.  From disaster-response professionals who visit parishes to deliver information and resources, to volunteers who collect and distribute food and supplies, to neighbors checking in on neighbors, the entire Catholic Charities community responded, providing help, creating hope and rebuilding lives.

Since Mr. Takashi’s stroke left him wheelchair bound and confused, Catholic Charities Case Manager Marvin Walker visited him in his home.  Mr. Walker helped Mr. Takashi apply successfully for a variety of grants and subsidies including new furniture from Project Hospitality, appliances from the Staten Island Back to Basics initiative, gift cards to cover necessities from the Siller Foundation, help paying heating bills from the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), food stamps from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and disaster recovery financial assistance from FEMA.  He helped Mr. Takashi apply for Access-a-Ride, bus rides catered for persons with disabilities.  And he gave Mr. Takashi food from Catholic Charities food pantries along with clothing, pots, pans, utensils and other household necessities.

Meanwhile, Catholic Charities Volunteer Services paired Fuji up with Catholic Charities Anderson Avenue Senior Director Marni Caruso.  She volunteered to drive Mr. Takashi during her personal time to medical appointments and meetings with the numerous government agencies that suddenly play a large role in his life.

Fuji’s road to recovery remains long and difficult.  He has progressed from wheelchair to walker to cane.  Many memories remain hazy.  His finances remain tight.

“I never thought I would have to depend on others,” Fuji says.  “But without Catholic Charities I couldn’t have survived.”

Thanksgiving Dinner for Those in Need: The More the Merrier.

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

By Alice Kenny

Temperatures are dropping; thousands remain homeless and recovery needs from Hurricane Sandy are changing by the day.

“Our main concern now is the weather getting cold again, “says Michael Neely, assistant to the director of Catholic Charities Staten Island.  “We need to help people get through the week and somehow have a Thanksgiving to celebrate.”

So Catholic Charities CYO Center, in partnership with Our Lady Help of Christians Church, Project Hospitality, El Centro Del Inmigrante and the Hispanic Federation, are preparing a free Thanksgiving dinner celebration today for hundreds of persons in need at the CYO Center, 120 Anderson Ave.  Doors open at 11 a.m. The multi-course dinner includes everything from turkey and stuffing to deserts and gifts for children.  Perhaps, best of all, it offers a warm place to celebrate.

“The more the merrier,” Mr. Neely said.

Hurt by the storm? 

If you need help and don’t know where to turn, call our toll-free number, (888) 744 – 7900, and we will guide you through the recovery process.

Click here to learn more.

Would you like to help others recover?

Text SANDY to 85944 to make a one-time $10 donation