2013-10-25 / Columnists

SANDY One Year Later. . .

Neighbors Helping Neighbors Helped Rockaway Survive
By Miriam Rosenberg

More than a few times residents and community leaders have said it was people helping each other that got those living on the peninsula through the days and months after Sandy hit.

It is something that Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder swears by. It is not just his observations as he tirelessly went from one end of Rockaway and Broad Channel to the other and back again those first days after Sandy and the weeks that followed. It comes from his personal experience that he calls “the perfect example” of how Rockawayites came to each other’s aid.

Goldfeder lives only three blocks from the ocean on Beach 6th Street. With his family already sent to safer ground in Nassau County, he tried to ride out the storm. When the water on his street began to rise he waded through it, with a plastic bag of dry clothes over his head, to get to the 101st Precinct on Mott Av- enue where he spent the night. He came back only once to sleep at his home, the night after Sandy. It wasn’t until eight days after the storm that he returned to his house to do what most people had already done – survey the damage and get rid of ruined items. Not wanting to take resources from others, instead of asking for help, Goldfeder decided to do the job on his own.

“I was literally pulling things out. Whatever I could carry out to the front of the house and started to build, like everybody else’s pile in front of their houses, I was building my own pile in front of my house – the garbage and the debris,” Goldfeder siad.

As he was building that pile, something unexpected began to happen.

“As I was doing it people just started joining me – my neighbors, volunteers,” Goldfeder continued. “About a half hour into the cleaning we must have had about 25 people emptying out my house.”

Goldfeder added, “By the time we were finished I couldn’t even tell you who was in my house. I didn’t know half of the people. There must have been 20 or 25 people ripping the carpet, banging the walls down and doing what was necessary. We were doing the best we could to gut it at the same time. We didn’t do a very good job. We were making holes everywhere and ripping up carpeting everywhere. But we did the best we could to at least make it so the problem wouldn’t get any worse to allow the house to air out.”

To those who helped him Goldfeder said, “Thank you for the help during my most difficult day and for showing me what our neighborhood is all about.”

That wasn’t the only story of residents helping each other. At the office of then councilman and now Senator James Sanders Jr., locals were packing donated supplies and handing them out. The Far Rockaway Library was turned into a relief center by the library’s staff, and local churches opened their doors to those who had nowhere to turn. We will probably never know many of the ways people helped their neighbors.

Then, like Goldfeder, there were those who found unexpected help in the process of cleaning and gutting their homes or businesses.

“I say this a lot…. I mean it very seriously,” said Goldfeder. “It was neighbors helping neighbors, you know – friends helping friends, that allowed our community to survive.”

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