BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — A steady stream of volunteers and donations of goods arriving from around the country for victims of Hurricane Sandy in Gerritsen Beach are meeting the short-term needs of many residents, but there is still a long road of recovery ahead.
“What we’re doing here is not even a fraction of the help this community is going to need,” said volunteer John Murphy, who was helping out at Resurrection Church, where residents in need could find assistance in the former parish school.
Designated as a Zone B evacuation area with only a moderate risk of flooding, residents of Gerritsen Beach, a tightknit, Irish-Catholic enclave on a peninsula in southern Brooklyn, thought they’d be spared the worst of the storm.
“The devastation in the beach was horrendous; six-foot waves chased people up their blocks,” said Father Dennis Farrell, pastor of Resurrection Church, the neighborhood’s only Catholic church.
Resurrection had downed trees and a power outage in the church that was resolved for Sunday Masses. But further into the neighborhood, as much as several feet of water flooded homes, ruining basements and first floors, and destroying cars.
The evening after Hurricane Sandy made landfall Father Farrell opened the former parish school as an evacuation center, and members of the Gerritsen Beach Volunteer Fire Department — known as the Vollies — rescued people from their homes in kayaks and small boats. They brought locals to the evacuation center and provided ongoing assistance.
“The volunteers have been fantastic,” Father Farrell told The Tablet, Brooklyn’s diocesan newspaper.
After five days, the evacuation center closed the night of Nov. 4 because the city had not approved it as an official shelter. While many residents had friends and family with whom they could stay, some went to the nearest city shelter.
When Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio paid a visit the morning of Nov. 4, the church’s center was bustling.
Sister Elizabeth Graham, a Sister of St. Joseph, who lives near the church, manned the door, trying to keep track of volunteers, donations and how many people had received assistance.
She estimated that “at least 3,000 to 4,000” residents, from young babies to those in their 90s, had received assistance, ranging from spending the night to stopping over for a hot meal and supplies.
Food and water were being distributed in the auditorium, where blankets and cots were set up for anyone who needed them.
“We’ve had a steady stream of people coming for help,” Murphy said. “If we can give them a cup of coffee, a hot meal and put some clothes on their backs, it’s the least we can do.”
Many people, Father Farrell said, were in need of “counseling and hugs,” which he and Father Edwin Okey Nwabugwu, parochial vicar, provided.
Father Farrell noted that two parishioners lost their lives as a result of the storm — one was trapped in his basement and the other suffered a fatal heart attack.
Massive donations of clothes, toiletries, cleaning supplies and stuffed animals narrowed hallways and filled classrooms to their ceilings. Larger items, like baby car seats and strollers occupied a corner of the parking lot.
“The community has come together,” Murphy told The Tablet. “Facebook has been a real help.”
Anything residents needed — from coffee to kerosene — was posted on the Vollies’ Facebook page, and the response was overwhelming.
Donations arrived from as far as Kentucky, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania and as close as neighboring parishes and businesses. Local restaurants and caterers donated hot food every few hours.
Donations were so plentiful, Murphy said, that volunteers drove six truckloads of clothing and supplies to affected areas in Staten Island, the Rockaways and Coney Island.
Firefighters Brendan Corrigan and Pat Nash from Ladder 147 in Flatbush dropped off a minivan full of water jugs, clothes and baby supplies from the Capt. Corrigan Memorial Foundation and St. Anastasia’s Parish in Douglaston.
“We felt Gerritsen wasn’t getting a lot of attention,” said Corrigan, “so we decided to bring the supplies here.”
Nash, who lives across the street from Resurrection Church, had 15 relatives staying in his apartment.
Among the volunteers was local teen Joe Dellosso, a freshman at St. Edmund Prep in Sheepshead Bay. He cleaned floors, sorted bags and did whatever needed to be done.
“Without this church, people would have been on the streets,” Dellosso said.
When local residents Lynn Albin and Mike Puder came to the former school Nov. 3 to donate their time and supplies, they met a woman known as Miss Virginia, a nonagenarian who had no heat in her house and no place to go once the school closed as an evacuation center.
So they “adopted” her, offering her a room in their home for as long as she wanted.
Contributing to this story were staff members of The Tablet, newspaper of the Brooklyn Diocese.