By Sue Kariker
Photo by Ginger Winings
FAR ROCKAWAYS, N.Y. – There’s more than one way to fill a hungry stomach.
For weeks, the familiar red-and-white American Red Cross trucks have been delivering meals to two senior housing complexes in Beach Channel on the southwest edge of Long Island, where Superstorm Sandy left widespread devastation.
More than 600 residents turn out to receive the carry-out clamshells of food they have come to rely on until power is restored and nearby stores reopen.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, however, the Red Cross trucks carried a bonus: Each resident received a cooler filled with non-perishable food to tide them over while the organization restocked and refueled for the Thanksgiving weekend push.
The Red Cross teamed up with the National Guard, which had been patrolling Long Beach Island – 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, a resident of the Beach Street Senior Housing Complex who helped organize the handout at the high-rises.
Red Cross disaster responders would be working throughout the holiday weekend to get meals and comfort to families and individuals affected by Sandy, but they couldn’t be everywhere at once.
The 600 coolers given out in Beach Channel were a fraction of the 20,000 various food containers distributed in New York in advance of the holiday. Each contained enough non-perishable food – such as canned sweet potatoes, green beans and corn, as well as packages of mashed potatoes and rice – to feed a family of four for several days.
On Thanksgiving Day alone, the Red Cross provided some 35,000 hot meals to people across New York and New Jersey.
Larkin, who rode out the storm in her apartment despite a mandatory evacuation order, said the storm surge of eight feet and higher plunged the buildings into darkness, leaving residents in fear and desperation. She immediately set up a communication network among four senior housing buildings; her son, a U.S. Air Force veteran, alerted the National Guard to the large population of senior citizens and retirees. The Red Cross was a welcome sight 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,” said Larkin, who considers herself the “eyes and ears” of her 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.”