2013-05-31 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

Oklahoma Outreach
By Phillip Goldfeder

When Sandy arrived seven months ago, my district, my community, and my family were severely impacted and our lives forever changed. Our neighborhoods, our businesses, and our homes were torn into pieces, flooded and burned down and our families left to rebuild their lives with uncertainty and despair. We survived in Southern Queens and Rockaway by helping each other and with great thanks to the kindness and generosity of our neighbors from across the country.

We have always been a strong community with a history of providing for others, but there are moments in time when the unimaginable takes place and we are forced to rely on others during our toughest challenges. Simply put, during Superstorm Sandy we were not prepared…

I often look back at the days and weeks following the storm and wonder how we survived without a playbook, without a plan, and without the necessary resources.

The answer is simple; we supported each other and were supported by those who have been through destruction and understood what we needed to survive.

When I heard that a natural disaster— this time a tornado—had ripped through the communities of Moore County in Oklahoma, I had a deep understanding of how they were feeling and on behalf of all of us who experienced Sandy, I needed to help. I needed to act.

Sandy survivors from across our community were inquiring about how to assist families that were struggling. I immediately reached out to my counterpart in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Paul Wesselhoft, whose district included the devastated areas of Moore County. After speaking with him, the decision was clear: I knew what I had to do for our community that strongly desired to return the favor that had been done for us just a short seven months ago. I booked the next flight to Oklahoma.

I had no plan, no agenda; only a desire to assist the thousands that were struggling to find hope. As I drove from the airport to the Capital, the only visible signs of a tornado were the many tents; hastily prepared, staffed with enthusiastic volunteers ready to receive supply donations. I stopped at each location to explain the circumstances that put me in their particular neighborhood and to say thank you for their help in the relief effort. Each encounter concluded with hugs, tears, and a rejuvenated spirit and belief that here was a light at the end of the tunnel.

I arrived in Oklahoma City and met with Representative Wesselhoft and others, including Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, to discuss the level of damage, ongoing relief efforts and what I could do to help.

To my surprise, I was invited to address the entire legislature and offer words of encouragement. The warm reception to my spontaneous remarks left me feeling as if I was the one still on the receiving end of the generosity.

Traveling together with elected representatives and the Oklahoma State police, we visited the main relief site located at the First Baptist Church of Moore. Like St. Francis in Rockaway or the American Legion in Broad Channel, this location was now transformed into a hub of relief services.

I spent hours speaking with volunteers, organizers, and families, offering guidance and advice that I had accumulated during our own Sandy relief and recovery efforts.

Sadly, spending every waking hour in the affected communities following Sandy prepared me for what I was about to see next. As I traveled through Moore, it was difficult to distinguish where the streets ended and homes began; their neighborhoods, their businesses and their homes were torn into pieces, blown away and their families left to rebuild their lives with uncertainty and despair.

The damage and devastation was eerily similar to what I witnessed in our own community post-Sandy, but I also saw the same strength, resolve, and resiliency of the families experiencing this tragedy.

On behalf of Southern Queens and Rockaway, I traveled to Oklahoma to say thank you for being there for us, but more importantly, I sent a strong message that we would be there for them. I met with their leaders, thanked volunteers and worked alongside families picking through the debris with the hope of locating lost memories.

I want to thank everyone in our community that has found a way to help families in Oklahoma get back on their feet. Trucks of supplies were sent, money was donated, and volunteers from our community are now on the ground repaying the debt.

As we continue our own recovery, please keep the struggling families in Oklahoma in your thoughts and prayers.

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