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Granite State volunteers bring supplies, relief to Staten Island

Union Leader Correspondent

November 12. 2012 9:31PM
One of the many houses destroyed in New Dorp on Staten Island, N.Y., during Hurricane Sandy. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Mary Pinder's jaw dropped when she approached the piles of grassy material scattered around the John M. D'Amato Athletic Field.

The $2 million artificial turf field used for soccer and football was built and dedicated just a year ago, but Hurricane Sandy's massive storm surge ripped it up, flung it around, and left it in ruin.

On the other side of the field, a lonely rubber Big Bird toy that once brought smiles to a young child's face sat amid a mess of uprooted trees, tangled sticks, rocks and other storm debris that now litters a beach in the New Dorp section of Staten Island.

And a short distance away, collapsed houses line the streets after Sandy's wicked winds pushed the sea into neighborhoods like never before.

"It was mass destruction. It was unbelievable. The power of the ocean must be absolutely incredible," said Pinder, administrative assistant for the Fremont Police Department.

Pinder witnessed the aftermath of Sandy's fury first-hand when she travelled to Staten Island last Saturday to deliver relief supplies donated to several New Hampshire police departments.

A police trailer from Fremont and a box truck donated to the Bristol Police Department by Newfound Self Storage and the Homestead Restaurant were packed with everything from diapers and cleaning supplies to bags of clothing and nonperishable food items.

In just four days last week, the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police Secretaries Association collected enough donations from residents, businesses, and local hospitals to fill the trucks in time for a fast delivery to one of the hardest hit areas of Staten Island, where some residents cleaning up their flood-ravaged homes have been told to expect their power to return between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Jessica Miehle of Rochester, the chief's administrative assistant at the North Hampton Police Department, launched the drive after hearing about the struggles of Staten Islanders from family members who live there and lost everything in the floods.

Fremont police Sgt. Jason Larochelle didn't hesitate to help out when he heard the plea.

"Was it convenient to take a whole day and drive to New York? No. But when the opportunity arose and a need was there, I jumped on it. Would I do it again? Absolutely," he said.

Larochelle was moved by stories from people like Miehle's cousin, Jay Jorgensen, who only lost power at his Staten Island home, but his brother and sister-in-law - who had a baby just a few days ago - were displaced from their flood-damaged apartment and the house they were planning to buy was destroyed. His parents also suffered flooding at their place.

Jorgensen has been trying to help the people of New Dorp Beach, the old neighborhood where he grew up.

"The first word that comes to mind every time I look at it is war zone. One of my neighbor's houses from where I grew up was completely leveled like a house of cards," a tired Jorgensen said after he met up with the two New Hampshire trucks outside the New York Container Terminal.

The trucks made their first stop at the terminal, where college students volunteered to unload the donations with help from Pinder, Larochelle, Fremont Detective Shawn Carlson, and Gylene Salmon, administrative assistant for the Bristol Police Department - all of whom made the 5-hour trip.

One by one the boxes and bags were pulled out and carted off to areas of the facility where they would be sorted and then shipped off on trucks to areas where they were needed.

At one point, New Jersey volunteer Greg Godfrey, who works for Paul Toth Container Services, backed up with his truck and began grabbing pet food, cleaning supplies and other New Hampshire donations and planned to bring them to Coney Island.

Godfrey said the donations were moving out just as fast as they were coming in.

"It definitely will make a difference in people's lives. It'll be a long time before they're whole again," said Salmon, of the Bristol Police Department.

After dropping off many of the supplies, the New Hampshire trucks headed to hurricane-ravaged New Dorp Beach, where they found a trailer accepting clothing donations, and saw scenes of devastation and broken spirits.

But there were also scenes of hope. Volunteers came from near and far to provide hot meals in the neighborhoods. Others came armed with brooms and other supplies to help clean up.

Some walked the neighborhoods offering to lend a hand in any way they could to the victims who have lost so much.

"They looked bewildered, like they were lost. They were walking around like they were dazed and exhausted, but they looked at you and still smiled," said Pinder, who was nearly brought to tears by the stories of lost pets and others found dead in the aftermath.

Jack Giambrone and his family lost many of their belongings in the flood.

"It took four days to get 7 feet of water out," he said.

As more relief drives are launched to help victims, Giambrone urged people to donate items like rice, which could help absorb moisture from pictures, and sprayers for garden hoses, which are now being targeted by thieves. He also encouraged people to give gift cards to places like Lowe's, Home Depot, and Best Buy so victims can begin replacing items they lost in the floods.

"You name it, they lost it," he said.

New Dorp Beach resident Debbie Hernandez stood on the front steps of her house Saturday and watched the cleanup effort on her street, which just two weeks ago was under water.

"We can't thank the volunteers enough. They're taking time out of their lives to help other people and it's amazing," she said.

Hernandez and her husband, Paul, have been fed by a motorcycle club from Brooklyn every day since the hurricane.

"Thousands of people they're feeding," she said as a young woman carrying warm coats stopped on the sidewalk and handed them over a fence.

"Please, take these," the woman told Hernandez, who accepted them with a "thank you" and told the woman that if she couldn't use them she would find someone who could.

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