We went to Rockaway today. We bought flashlights and batteries and donated them at a church in Far Rockaway. Driving out there was a surreal experience. Starting out in Rego Park you would not know there was a problem (other than lines for gas). To get to Rockaway we go down Woodhaven Blvd., which turns into Cross Bay Blvd. When you get to Howard Beach on Cross Bay all the traffic lights are out and all the stores are closed. I could not help thinking of all the business owners who have surely lost everything. After Howard Beach comes Broad Channel. I knew this would be bad, and it was. No lights or power, abandoned cars everywhere, piles of garbage which were once people's possessions, piled everywhere. There is a big donation center at an American Legion Hall on Cross Bay. Cars were backed up and the parking lot was full, with hundreds of people dropping off donations.
There was no toll on the Cross Bay Bridge, just a sense of dread crossing the bay into Rockaway. When you hit the first big intersection it looks like a third world country. Many many people moving about with bags of stuff. Some bringing to donate, many others leaving with supplies they had just picked up. Huge charity set-ups that looked like a bazaar. We did not see anything that looked "official" or government run, or that appeared to be from the well known big charities. I'm not saying they aren't there, just that we didn't see them, nor did we see any signs directing people to them.
We drove around Rockaway quite a bit. At this point there is some sand pretty far inland, but not much. The boardwalk appeared partially intact in some places, gone in others, and damaged in others. Mostly we just saw people clearing stuff out of their houses. No traffic lights or electricity ANYWHERE out there, and no stores open. Even if a person had money in Rockaway, there is virtually no place to buy anything. We saw two big gas lines, and one place where there was a gas truck with a huge line of people with the omnipresent red gas canisters.
We then drove to Far Rockaway (the lower numbered Beach Streets). For my friends who are not familiar with Far Rockaway, this is a very poor area, I would venture to say one of the lowest income areas in New York City. It always seemed like a paradox to me, this blighted section right near beautiful oceanfront. It has been that way for a long time. We drove around and it was similar to the rest of Rockaway....no electricity, no stores, people cleaning up. We found a church on Cornega Avenue near Mott Avenue that had a pretty organized set-up, with a lot of people waiting on line. People were circling the items they needed on sheets, and volunteers were essentially putting orders together for them. People coming with donations were directed to put their stuff with the similar stuff on the tables. So, our batteries and flashlights went there. They also had canned food, Ensure, baby supplies, blankets, clothing, toiletries, and basic first aid supplies.
I would be lying if I said I felt "good" after making the donation. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and helplessness. After thinking about this, and as we discussed the days events on the way home, we agreed that helping was indeed "good", and that helping MORE would be better. Figuring out how to do that will be worthwhile.
So, we will bring some more stuff tomorrow. Other than that, and other than deciding to offer a ride to a person who looks tired, or who may need to use my phone to make a call, or to help move some junk, I don't know what else to do, except this.....
My NY/NJ/CT friends know about what I am about to say, but I want to say it in case there are any of my non-local friends who do not know......the enormity of the damage, in human and property terms, defies the imagination. I was in a few pretty large communities today, and it was hard to comprehend, and then one realizes that it is also like that in Long Beach, and all the towns on the South Shore, and Coney Island, and Staten Island, and New Jersey, and many many other areas.
So the only other thing I can think of to DO is to just encourage anyone who is reading this, take SOME action. Make a donation, volunteer someplace (if you google this activity, volunteer opportunities abound), drive someplace with some friends and help people clean or move.
When we are back home, in comfort, warm, and eating a nice meal, our tens of thousands of neighbors are not, and will not be doing the same for a LONG time.
Please consider doing SOMETHING, and act on it.