By Ashley Chapman
Maria Castro likes to talk about how her 17-year old son, Jorge Rosario—or Jay Jay, as she calls him—spontaneously dove into the freezing ocean on a cold day last November after a construction job for post-Sandy clean up in the Rockaways.
Not long after that, Jorge was fatally shot in the head at a party in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
For Maria and her remaining three children: Diamond, 12; Reyshawn, 6; and Crystal, 1; the months since then have become increasingly difficult. Three months after the Castro family lost Jorge, they lost their home.
On February 17, a fire started in the apartment next door to the Castro’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Maria was across the street while Diamond was home with the baby, Crystal. Maria saw smoke coming out of the building and started running towards it just as Diamond emerged, carrying Crystal in her arms.
“The first thing I thought was ‘Thank God, my kids are okay,’” said Maria. “But then I began to think, ‘What else will God put in front of me’? I don’t bother nobody, I don’t hurt nobody.”
The fire destroyed the Castro’s apartment on a bitter cold morning when New Yorkers were stocking up on winter supplies, preparing for the snowstorm that was expected to hit the next day. But unlike most people, the Castros had not only lost their basic supplies—necessities like baby blankets and diapers—they had also lost all of their possessions, including irreplaceable photos of Jorge.
Within hours of the fire, the New York Red Cross provided Maria and her kids with vital emergency support: diapers and a blanket for the baby, a debit card to purchase essential items, and hotel lodging for the entire family. Since then, the Red Cross has helped the Castros get settled into a more permanent home.
“As a mother protecting her children,” said Maria, “if I didn’t have the Red Cross to put us in a hotel, I think I would have just gone to a hospital waiting room to sleep. At least it would be warm and safe there for my kids. Otherwise, we’d be on the streets.”
“My kids are my priority,” she added. She admitted that the past few months have been especially hard on Diamond, who, at 12, is old enough to absorb the pain.
“My daughter cried a lot and said things like, ‘I lost my big brother. Now we are losing our home. What else will happen to us?’” Maria said.
For now, Maria tries to provide her kids a sense of comfort in the routine. On the first Sunday after the fire, she took them to church and then to get ice cream, as they had every other Sunday. That was when Diamond asked her what the Red Cross does.
“I explained to her how the Red Cross has helped us,” Maria said. “And she said, ‘The Red Cross makes us safe. Without the Red Cross, we would be sleeping in our car, Mom.’”
These days, when you ask Maria how she is doing now, she speaks evenly, but then her voice cracks.
“I will not forget about him,” she said. “Everything is hitting me and I’ve got to be strong. I have to stay focused. I thank God every day for waking me up. I say, ‘Today’s a new day, I have to keep my head up.”
With the help of the Red Cross, this task has hopefully been made a little easier.
By Michael de Vulpillieres, Communications Officer, American Red Cross Greater New York Region
“Water came in from both sides,” said Connie Hulla, pointing to the walls of her Coney Island church exactly 100 days after Sandy made landfall.
She had seen major storms here before, just never anything like this.
“Sandy nearly flooded the entire peninsula,” she said.
Hulla is pastor at the Coney Island Gospel Assembly, a church on the peninsula’s North side, a densely populated area comprised of housing projects and row houses.
“This community was struggling before the storm,” said Hulla. “Now it’s devastated.”
Like most of the buildings around it, Connie’s church was badly damaged. She considers herself lucky. “The whole structure could have come down,” she said.
The church’s basement, which housed the boiler and the electrical system, was destroyed. Thirteen feet of water flowed through an area that, days earlier, served as a homeless shelter.
But despite the damage, the church almost immediately became a relief hub in Coney Island; a safe place for the community to find donated clothing, food, relief supplies, and hope.
“We’ve just done what we’ve always done,” Hulla recalled. “Giving and serving.”
That was the basis on which her father founded the church 55 years ago.
“My family started the church to meet a lot of the needs caused by the serious levels of poverty here,” said Hulla.
Over the years, Hulla’s church has become an institution in Coney Island. So after Sandy, it was logical for residents to come here seeking help.
Within hours of Sandy’s landfall, donated food, water, clothing, clean-up supplies, diapers, and other items poured in, and thousands of locals lined up every day and night seeking assistance.
Hulla has been addressing needs for Sandy relief around the clock. Early on, she and her team of volunteers worked 18 to 20 hour days. She said that even today, it’s still a 24/7 job. (A job in which no one actually gets paid.)
Throughout her response to the storm, Hulla has received assistance from the American Red Cross.
“Everything the Red Cross does here makes a difference,” she said.
It began when truckloads of clothing and relief supplies were delivered to the church.
The organization has also provided thousands of meals to Coney Island residents which Hulla called, “a Godsend.”
She was referring to the dire situation in Coney Island, one where the storm took out so much of the local infrastructure that finding food and preparing meals has been so difficult.
To help, Red Cross food trucks canvassed nearby streets distributing hot meals, water and snacks. Additional Red Cross vehicles were stationed in front of Hulla’s church distributing food to hundreds more every day. Today, the Red Cross continues to deliver meals.
“Seeing the Red Cross sends a message of hope to the community.” Hulla said, “It tells us that we are not abandoned.”
In addition to prepared meals, grocery boxes funded by the American Red Cross are also distributed from Hulla’s church.
“A lot of people here were having a tough time purchasing food before the storm. Now, with the added financial burden that Sandy has caused, it’s almost impossible.”
But for a neighborhood that has seen its share of tough times, Hulla said the significance of the Red Cross goes beyond food and supplies.
“Red Cross volunteers bring such positive energy,” Hulla said. “We are not used to that. It lifts people up; it infuses the community. We need that here.”
“And for me personally,” Hulla added. “Seeing them tells me that I don’t have to do this alone.”
PRESS RELEASE: Red Cross, Mayor’s Fund, and Robin Hood Foundation launch $15 Million Mold Remediation project in NYCFebruary 1, 2013
MAYOR BLOOMBERG ANNOUNCES NEW PROGRAM TO ADDRESS WATER DAMAGE AND MOLD IN NEIGHBORHOODS HARDEST HIT BY HURRICANE SANDY
Unique Public-Private Partnership to Help Expand Mold Treatment Assistance in Affected Neighborhoods
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations today announced a new initiative to address water damage and treat mold in homes impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Since Hurricane Sandy, the City has provided comprehensive guidance on how to safely and effectively treat mold, and has collaborated with the Environmental Contractors Association to supply homeowners and volunteers with proper equipment to remove it. While homeowners can use FEMA assistance to address mold, costs can be significant, and there is no direct Federal funding available for mold remediation. Using private money raised to assist victims of Hurricane Sandy, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City is launching a remediation program to remove mold in approximately 2,000 homes in the hardest hit areas. In partnership with the American Red Cross and the Robin Hood Foundation, the Mayor’s Fund is sponsoring a $15 million remediation program that will be administered by Neighborhood Revitalization NYC, an affiliate of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a community development not-for-profit corporation with 30 years of experience working in New York City. Neighborhood Revitalization NYC will coordinate mold treatment that will be performed at no cost to the homeowner by private contractors and not-for-profit organizations. In addition to the direct mold treatment program, the Mayor’s Fund is sponsoring new awareness and safe practice trainings on mold treatment work. These free training sessions will take place in many of the hardest hit communities to educate homeowners and volunteers on how to effectively treat mold, and thousands of mold supply kits will be distributed at no cost. Read the rest of this entry »
Written by Tracy Duncan
In the parking lot of Aqueduct Race Track in Queens, you’ll find trailers and tents of various sizes. Many of those trailers belong to the Red Cross, but if you look nearby, you’ll see several from the North Carolina Baptists on Mission.
The North Carolina Baptists on Mission is a statewide group dedicated to the disaster relief ministry and is focused on relieving human suffering caused by disasters. They fulfill their mission by providing hot meals, debris removal and other services. The group has been in New York since shortly after Hurricane Sandy made land fall, sending crews to help remove mud and debris from homes, install sheet rock and other rebuilding services much needed by those left in Hurricane Sandy’s wake.
While the crews of men head into neighborhoods during the day, another crew remains behind in this self-sufficient community. The North Carolina Baptists have bunk trailers, shower trailers, kitchen trailers, command trailers, utility/tool trailers and even a laundry trailer. They haul in their own water, which are refilled by local military groups.
Written by Tracy Duncan.
It’s not uncommon to see t-shirts and signs with “I heart NY” throughout town. What’s more true is that New Yorkers “heart NY” and are proving that by giving countless hours as Red Cross volunteers.
Bob Rathbone and Sue deBourg have been volunteers with the Mineola Chapter, part of the Greater New York Chapter, of the American Red Cross for years. When Sandy approached, they didn’t wait to see what needed to be done.
“We filled sand bags before the storm hit and then opened shelters as the storm approached,” said Bob Rathbone. “I think we’ve taken 10 days off throughout the disaster.”
Sue and Bob also helped close those shelters as residents were moved to hotels and other temporary housing. They didn’t end their service there, they just moved to another function.
Now Sue and Bob, joined by Norma Himpler, work an ERV route delivering meals to residents in areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy. Norma, 84, is a retired nurse.
While Sue and Norma dish up the food in back, Bob takes to the loud speaker inviting everyone to come out and get a free meal provided by the American Red Cross. He then chats with residents to see how things are progressing in the clean up.
With big smiles and bigger hearts, it’s easy to see how much these three New Yorkers care for their neighbors. Maybe that’s why we all love New York.
On a frigid morning, a group of Red Cross volunteers mill about the parking lot of Aqueduct Race Track for just a short time before snapping into action under the direction of Red Cross volunteer, Nelson Valina, an active duty Colonel in the United States Marine Corps.
The food has arrived at Kitchen 2 and there is now much to be done. Like an efficient platoon of Marines, the volunteers take their place at the truck to quickly unload the day’s meals for those affected by Hurricane Sandy. They hurriedly take cambros of hot food and are then directed to the correct pallet by Col. Valina.
A makeshift cardboard chart shows where each pallet is located, making the unloading that much faster and more efficient. In a matter of minutes, the truck is unloaded, the pallets are filled with hot food and fresh fruit and the next phase of the mission begins.
During the brief down time when the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) drivers race off to get their vehicles, Col. Valina transforms from commanding officer to cheerleader. “You guys rock! You guys rock!” he shouts to the volunteers in the freezing temperatures. Everyone smiles, high-fives all around, the morale couldn’t be higher.
Time to switch gears again, there is still work to be done and the Colonel doesn’t easily forget that we’re here to do a job, we’re here to take care of people and fulfill the Red Cross mission. Now that the pallets are loaded, it’s time to load the ERVs heading out to the neighborhoods.
Written by Brian Scoles
BREEZY POINT, N.Y. – 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 the 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.
Written by Joellen Barak
MANHATTAN, NY, January 18, 2013 – Sofia and her husband Stephan lost everything—even Stephan’s hearing aids—to Superstorm Sandy when their Brighton Beach apartment flooded. They were determined to rebuild their lives themselves—they found a new apartment on their own and moved in. But then Stephan lost his job because he couldn’t hear his supervisor’s instructions, and the couple realized that they needed help.
Felice Steele, a Red Cross nurse, immediately started making plans to replace Stephan’s hearing aids, but she didn’t speak Russian. That, combined with Sofia’s limited English and Stephan’s limited hearing, made communication difficult. Steele got the idea to contact a local Russian Orthodox Church to see if a priest would be able to help with translation. She reached Father Michael Suvak and Father Christopher Calin at the Cathedral of the Holy Virgin of Protection, and they were able to put her in touch with Father Vladimir Alexeev at Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church, who provided vital translation services.