Reminded of the music of the ice cream trucks of their childhoods, when Red Cross ERV trucks pull up and signal their arrival, more than 600 residents from two senior housing complexes in Beach Channel, New York, gather for the meals on which they have relied since Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29.
In addition to the regular plates and bowls loaded with food, on Tuesday afternoon, they each received a Red Cross cooler filled with non-perishable food items designed to keep hunger at bay while the organization restocked and refueled for the Thanksgiving push. The coolers were packed by volunteers and staff in a Virginia warehouse before being delivered to the affected areas. The Red Cross distributed the coolers in a partnership with the National Guard, which has been patrolling Long Beach – in the hard-hit Far Rockaways – for nearly four weeks.
“The partnership between the National Guard and the Red Cross has been saving the lives of the fragile population,” said Ruth Larkin, one of the residents of the Beach Street Senior Housing Complex who helped oversee the handout to the high-rises, which include the Dayton Towers Complex next door.
American Red Cross volunteers are working throughout this holiday weekend to provide meals and comfort to people affected by Sandy. The coolers given out on Tuesday, some 600 of the 20,000 various food containers dispatched in New York this week, contain enough non-perishable food to feed a family of four for several days. The boxes and coolers include Thanksgiving staples, such as canned sweet potatoes, green beans and corn, as well as packages of mashed potatoes and rice.
On Thanksgiving Day alone, the Red Cross will provided about 35,000 hot meals to people across New York and New Jersey. Nearly 5,300 Red Cross workers are currently supporting shelters by providing food and water at fixed sites, and driving through neighborhoods to distribute meals and supplies – 90 percent of these workers have come from across the country.
One of the first on duty after the storm, Larkin has singled-handedly carried ERV meals to at least 10 apartments every day to home-bound seniors, some who are in wheelchairs. When Sandy made landfall on this beachfront community, which has a large population of senior citizens and retirees, she took charge of the communication network between the four buildings. Her son Sam Larkin, a retired Air Force service member, alerted the National Guard to the emergency.
The Rockaway Peninsula, an 11-mile ribbon of small homes, public housing projects and senior complexes on the Atlantic, was among the Queens communities hit hardest by Sandy. As much as four feet of water covered the island at one point, with surges described as eight feet and higher. Larkin, who rode out the storm despite a mandatory evacuation order, said the tides – exacerbated by the high winds and roiling waves – plunged the buildings into darkness, leaving residents fearful for the lives and livelihoods.
However, Larkin said the Red Cross arrived soon after the storm died down.
“The Red Cross got to us within two days with blankets, hot food, and flashlights, and they’ve stayed with us for 11 days,” said Larkin, the self-described “eyes and ears” of the large community. “We can count on the Red Cross. The Red Cross saved our lives.
“God bless the Red Cross. We couldn’t have asked for more.”