As grocery stores and other services remain shuttered on Coney Island entering the fourth week of Hurricane Sandy recovery, the Red Cross has stepped in to fill the needs of two different populations: apartment tenants looking to stay fed and warm, and homeowners beginning to rebuild.
Lines were long at the agency’s Surf Avenue staging ground on Sunday, but moved relatively quickly as volunteers from AmeriCorps, the City of New York and other organizations filled and distributed bags of provisions – ranging from granola bars to fleece blankets – shipped from the Red Cross’ distribution centers in Southern New York and New Jersey. Since the hurricane made landfall on October 29, the Red Cross has handed out nearly 21,000 meals and snacks and more than 89,000 cleaning supplies, toiletries and additional materials across Brooklyn.
“As soon as the trucks come in, the supplies go out,” said Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, one of the many unions volunteering its members for service in the Sandy aftermath. “Every day, the needs change. Now we’re handing out cleaning supplies and whatever else we can essentially get our hands on.”
A few miles away, Red Cross mobile feeding trucks continued serving warm meals to residents of Sea Gate, a waterfront housing community hit hard by Sandy, as they slowly trickled in to survey the damage and assess where to begin reconstruction. Located on Coney Island’s most Western tip, Sea Gate suffered some of the superstorm’s greatest destruction when retaining walls once thought impenetrable to ocean temperaments caved to sea surges of more than 20 feet.
“When I haven’t been able to make it back to my daughter’s for a lunch or dinner break, I’ve had hot food waiting for me,” said Garry Konner, 52, as he looked over the rubble of his former backyard. “We’ve been here since 1966; we’re going to rebuild.”
Down the road, longtime Sea Gate homeowner, Debbie Gordon, a nurse at Maimonides Medical Center who helped evacuate nursing home patients to area hospitals during the storm, said that in addition to cleaning and other supplies, call centers operated by the Red Cross have helped her access government insurance and other federal aid. While her own home remained standing, Hurricane Sandy reduced her daughter’s house to a pile of splintered wood and craggy concrete.
“We don’t exactly know how we’re going to go about putting things back together,” Gordon said, “but at least we’ve had volunteers helping us figure it out.”
Coney Island Council member Coney Dominic M. Recchia, Jr., couldn’t specify when the grocery stores, hardware stores and other amenities that line Surf Avenue would open for business again. In the meantime, residents like Alicia Lovell gratefully make do with the variety of things the Red Cross has included in recovery kits.
“My son is a size six, but for now, we’re making him a size five (diaper),” Lovell said. “We can only be grateful right now. There’s no room for pickiness.”