By Brian Scoles, American Red Cross Disaster Public Affairs
Love. Peace. Joy. The words echo a 1960s street demonstration. A drive around Breezy Point, N.Y., reveals scenes out of a battle-ravaged village in World War II Europe.
But this is 2013, and location with the cheerful name is just a dozen miles from downtown New York City. The words “Love” “Peace” and “Joy” decorate hundreds of brightly painted Stars of HOPE scattered throughout an ocean-front area devastated by Superstorm Sandy.
American Red Cross volunteers see the stars every day as they deliver hot meals to hundreds of residents still without electricity and water – some without their homes – even now, nearly three months after screaming winds, monumental tidal surges and out-of-control fires ripped through this bungalow community.
“The color is such a bright contrast to the black and grey of charred homes and trees, and the ashen remains of what was once someone’s home,” said one Red Cross disaster worker. “They command your attention and deliver their messages of hope.”
As the Red Cross has shifted its Sandy response from immediate emergency needs to long-term recovery, volunteers know that encouragement and emotional support are vital for community restoration. Trained Red Cross disaster mental health workers continue to meet with storm victims, to assess their needs and, if necessary, refer them to local mental health services.
Meanwhile, Stars of HOPE is lending a hand to the recovery effort. The non-profit organization was founded in 2007 after a F5 tornado ravaged Greensburg, Kansas. Stars of HOPE works with schools and community leaders in a disaster-affected community to enlist children to paint inspirational words and messages on plywood stars and decorate them in bright colors.
The purpose of the stars is to bring color into a devastated area and to re-instill a sense of hope and community. Each town that receives stars then paints stars for the next town that experiences a disaster. Breezy Point received some of its stars from Minot, N.D. and local New York school children.
Day by day, storm-ravaged communities in Queens are seeing public services and commercial activity restored, allowing more people to resume normal lives.
However, an estimated 1,900 people are still living in hotels or other temporary housing; many others are struggling financially because their workplaces were crippled by the storm. The Red Cross and its partner organizations are delivering thousands of meals a day to meet feeding needs.
Meanwhile, Red Cross nurses and counselors are increasingly seeing survivors struggling with the emotional toll of months of storm impact; Red Cross Community Partner Services and Red Cross caseworkers are working hard at connecting people with financial and other resources they need to regain their independence.
So, while the Stars of HOPE shine throughout Breezy Point, the Red Cross patiently continues its disaster response, made possible by the financial donations and volunteer generosity of the American people.