Hundreds Gather For “Walk A Mile” March And Rally
Starting from Beach 112th Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard at 10 a.m., several hundred people marched together to the beach.
From there the group stretched in long lines along the shore as they proceeded up the beach to the rally point at Beach 131st Street.
Many also joined the march along the way and at Beach 131st Street as well.
Various estimates from police, organizers and observers put the crowds at anywhere from more than 300 up to nearly 800 people at its peak.
Residents of Rockaway and Broad Channel, many of them currently displaced from their homes, came from Brooklyn, Astoria, Ozone Park, upstate New York as well as from Maryland and other states to attend. Likewise others came from far and wide to march in solidarity.
One woman came despite a flat tire. Another Rockaway man said, “I had to come, even though I’m coming down with something and I worked last night.”
Organizers made it clear that the Walk A Mile In Our Shoes goal was to focus elected officials’ attention on the still pressing needs of the many areas hard hit by the hurricane. They also planned to establish an ongoing relationship with lawmakers to directly address the community’s needs.
Referring specifically to the $50.6 billion in Sandy relief still not as yet approved by a Congress at that point, along with $9.7 billion in previously long delayed aid, one Westchester woman said, “It’s just sickening that this is happening.” Attending with her daughter, she added, “And I’m a Republican.”
“Walk A Mile” marches were also set to take place in Gerritsen Beach, Coney Island, Island Park, Staten Island, Seaside, Brigantine, Keansburg and Union City, New Jersey and other places. Organized independently, many were timed to start in conjunction with the Rockaway event.
While never losing its seriousness of purpose, the march also took on a distinctly lively Rockaway air. For dozens the beach trek became a happy reunion, as neighbors and friends, greeted, hugged and sometimes cried with those they had not seen since before the October 29th storm.
Upon arriving at Beach 131st Street, event co-organizer Peter Corless, standing on the sound equipped pickup truck that served as a stage, lead the crowd in singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”
His declaration that “Congress must come together and swiftly approve an aids package” for storm survivors’ relief was met with hundreds of voices echoing “Pass the bill, pass the bill!”
Corless also stated the next step would be to establish volunteer ambassadors to provide elected officials with a direct area contact, and even provide a “VIP tour to any who would care to come down.
“You want to see where mold is growing? We’ll show it to you.”
Other guest speakers at the event included Representative Gregory Meeks, State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr., beach advocate John Cori from Demand The Sand, State Senator Malcolm Smith, Rockaway mother Desiree Abenante, the Graybeard’s Steve Stathis and co-Walk A Mile organizers and founder of the Sandy Claus relief project Michael Sciaraffo. Also speaking were Assembly District Leader Lew Simon, community leader and Far Rockaway resident Prince Brown, Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, Belle Harbor resident Cristian Dobles, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Broad Channel resident Alison Kase.
Expressing the widespread suffering of so many, Smith said Sandy “was an equal opportunity destroyer.”
However in this crisis, which has affected all areas, residents of all walks of life and economic levels, Smith declared “This is one New York!”
Said resident and mother, Desiree Abenante, “We need our schools back. We need our churches. We need everything.
“I don’t get it. What does it take? Kids to get sick? People to die?”
Addressing congressmen who have opposed federal relief funding, coorganizer Sciaraffo said, “I know you would vote for that money if it was your state that was hit.”
He also stated “We are the UNITED States of America. It is time we are united!”
Sciaraffo added that messages offering assistance have come in from all over the world. “They want to help.”
As Prince Brown commented, “When neighbor came out to help Rockaway neighbor, it was the most fantastic thing!’
Singer Gary Russo, whose own Broad Channel home was heavily damaged and who is currently displaced out of state, closed out the event.
Known as the “2nd Avenue Sinatra," he led the crowd in singing “New York, New York” and invited all the children attending especially to join in on “High Hopes.”
Music played after the event inspired impromptu dancing, as volunteers served donated soup and hot barbecue sandwiches on bagels.
Reflecting the emotions brought out by the event afterward, one Belle Harbor woman pointed down the beach and said, “My friend’s parents live not too far from here. They couldn’t even get out to their house at the time.”
A contingent of Rockaway “Walk A Mile In Our Shoes” participants joined with their Long Island counterparts to take their message to Washington D.C. on Tuesday January 15th and urge lawmakers to pass the then impending Sandy Relief bill.