By Ruth Lasser
There has never been a storm like Sandy in Staten Island’s history. It brought devastation and chaos, death and loss, misery in all its ramifications. It destroyed lives, homes, and businesses. But it also brought out the best in the people of Staten Island. Despite the loss of power and ability to communicate easily, Staten Islanders descended on the most impacted areas to begin the process of helping total strangers with the most elemental needs — food, shelter, clothing.
It quickly became apparent that the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island could help in crucial ways. Although it lost power for nine days, the staff contacted all of the senior adult participants who lived in the affected areas to ensure their safety and needs, bringing supplies and food. The food pantry dispensed packages to shelters and individuals for months, starting with food and expanding to cleaning supplies, linens, clothing, batteries and all the basics that were needed for survival. It became a hub for the distribution of donated items from all over the country.
Realizing that long-term needs would follow the short-term ones, the JCC with the help of a starter grant from UJA-Federation of New York developed a coalition of approximately 50 organizations, synagogues and volunteers to provide information about each day’s changing conditions, report on specific needs, share resources and keep open the communication between officials and the victims of the storm. Named Connect-to-Recovery, it included partner organizations that provided free legal assistance, counseling, crisis intervention, employment counseling, kosher meals and food pantry, and NYS Health Insurance eligibility.
The Connect-to-Recovery Coalition met weekly with government officials, emergency relief agencies and others to find solutions and up to the minute information. The Coalition members went through each stage — from rescue and immediate assistance to recovery and rebuilding of homes and lives. Through the generosity of organizations, foundations and individuals, more than $30,000 in gift cards and over $500,000 of cash assistance was distributed to aid those in need. Furniture and appliances followed the mucking out, rebuilding, new heating and electricity, and each stage of putting lives and structures back together.
The next stage was even more difficult because it dealt with the mental health issues that resulted from the devastation. Individuals and entire families suffered the effects of post traumatic stress disorder. During this stage, more than 500 individuals were served along with more than 1,200 households in the early stages, totaling approximately 5,000 individuals. Throughout the process, the JCC employed trained social workers and case managers to assess the needs of the individual and family and guide them through the process of obtaining the necessary assistance.
The JCC actively participates in all local efforts including the Long Term Recovery Coalition (LTRO), the Staten Island Not-for-Profit Association’s Community Organization for Assistance in Disasters (COAD) and the NY Rising Steering Committee. At this time, the JCC is assisting the final cohort of families physically impacted by Sandy as they rebuild their homes.
The JCC is proud of the tireless dedication of its staff and volunteers as we look back on all that has been done for so many as a result of Super Storm Sandy.