By Jeanne McGettigan, Catholic Charities Director of Emergency Food Services
On New Year’s Eve, Catholic Charities Emergency Food Services Department enlisted our Mobile Food Pantry staff and volunteers to distribute 6,000 meals in Midland Beach, a Staten Island neighborhood devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Three staff and four volunteers rose early in the morning to pack bags at our delivery location in the Bronx, while another staff member waited for 26 cases of frozen chickens to be unloaded at the distribution site in Midland Beach, St. Margaret Mary Church. In addition, one staff member stopped by our Staten Island office at Anderson Avenue to pick up 100 children’s books to distribute to children who stopped by. By 11am, the Mobile was parked in the lot of the parish, at 560 Lincoln Avenue.
A steady stream of residents arrived. Some had heard from their pastor, others from fliers given out at the nearby Restoration Center. One woman said that she had just gotten a small electric oven, and she would cook her first meal in it with some of the items. Residents who were still not able to cook were glad for ready-to-eat items such as apple cider, tuna, cream cheese, bread, romaine lettuce, and oranges.
Jim Reagan, head of the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society, offered to drive staff around to some of the still-devastated areas to check in and offer help. It was sad to go block after block and find so many houses empty, their former residents staying elsewhere. However, when we did find occupants at home, they were very grateful for assistance.
One man invited us into his humble bungalow, stripped down to the studs.
“We’ve got nothing” he said. “We’ll take anything you can give us.”
Another family of six sent their two teenagers out to carry in armfuls of food.
One resident said, “I’m ok. Give it to someone who needs it.” A few minutes later, he was back. “I have a friend I can bring this to. I’ll take a bag.”
By mid afternoon, over half of the bags had been distributed and the numbers of recipients had slowed.
Staff then contacted Tony Hall, of STAR (Small Town America Recovers) with a restoration hub set up at Midland and Kiswick. Tony has been running a grass roots effort since the earliest days after the hurricane. He agreed to take the remaining food and distribute it from his tent.
By the time we arrived to do the drop-off, a line had already gathered. There was a family there: mother, father and child who had lost everything and were so grateful for the food that they received. They let me know that they had to abandon their home for the time and were living with their father in-law. A home of one suddenly became a house of four and food and money were scarce so they were happy to take some of the ‘burden’ from their father, if only for a few meals. When we checked in with Tony a few days later, he confirmed that all of the remaining food had been distributed on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to residents of Midland Beach.