Personal view of Hurricane Sandy relief

By Mike DiBenedetto
I’d like to pass on thanks from all the people who got warm blankets, food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and all the other supplies that were brought down to Coney island and Staten Island on our trips Nov. 10 and November 19.

Thanks to Elena who organized and sorted all the donations at the Halcott Grange, Georgie at CAP who sent down cases and cases of cleaning supplies (which were so desperately needed), Nan, Lee, Peg, Claire and Suzanna for loading the truck, and to Now and Then Video for the use of their store, to Julie and Tarah who rode down and helped sort and distribute the goods. Thanks to all who donated and made the trips possible.

Hitting the road
When we left last Saturday morning, our destination was the Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn. I had talked to folks there just three days before and they had needs for the items we were bringing down, but since then I hadn’t heard anything from them. Some specific items on the truck were for families of a friend of Julie DiBenedetto on Coney Island, so we headed there first to deliver them. After we dropped those off we drove just around the block, and there was a mission/church feeding people on the street.

We stopped to see if they could use some supplies and were greeted by Pastor Debbie Santiago of the Salt and Sea Mission. As we opened the back door of the truck, revealing cases of toilet paper that were donated by the Gould Church, she said “Oh, Lord, I prayed to God this morning to bring us some toilet paper!”

We gave them some of everything we had on the truck, including some cases of dehydrated food from CitiHop in Andes. That night after the delivery I e-mailed the mission saying that we could bring more of the food down from Citihope. Paul Moore II of Citihope saw on Facebook where we had delivered and, well, one has to realize that there are around 60,000 people on Coney Island, and Pastor Santiago is a friend of the Moores. She called me a few days later, and very emotionally told me how some 26 years ago Citihope had had her on their radio program and they had become associates and friends.  She said it never ceases to amaze her how God works, and I couldn’t agree with her more.

Community work
When we returned to Staten Island and Coney Island on Monday, we discovered that all of the major outside aid agencies have left the area. However, local community efforts are ongoing and still in need of certain relief supplies. Therefore, we will be making a third and final trip this coming weekend to bring cleaning supplies to the Staten Island community and winter coats, hats, gloves and blankets to the Salt and Sea Mission on Coney Island along with more food. Please donate only these items, no one wants clothes or water anymore!

Many people have asked me about donations and how one knows what to do. I only know that most people want to help when they see suffering, and whether it’s due to our “God” gene or maybe some evolutionary advantage to help our neighbors, it really doesn’t matter.

Personally, I do it for selfish reasons, because it feels good to help. And, it is so hard for any government organization or non-government organization to go in an area and get it all right. I learned from Citihope that one needs a personal contact on the ground to make sure the goods actually get to the needy, and not just stockpiled in some warehouse, or given out for the sake of being given out.

Power shortage
The power was still out where we were in Coney Island and Staten Island, many folks are having to move out, and have picked up what valuables they had, lots of houses tagged, lots being torn down or falling down. The poorest of the poor in Coney Island are still homeless. It’s hard to say that the emergency is over, but the aid agencies have moved out.
So, we do the best we can.

I think Mother Teresa said, “The only good we do, is the good we do for others.”

Editor’s note: Halcott Center residents Mike and Peg DiBenedetto are the owners of Vly Mountain Spring Water. They have been at the forefront of leading relief efforts to assist downstate residents whose lives have been put into turmoil from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.