One Woman Rescue Team
“She was like a one-woman relief operation after the storm.” That’s how Rockaway resident Kara Burke described her friend, Donna Miley- Figueroa. Now more than a year later after Sandy, Miley-Figueroa is still at it, with her latest project being a holiday toy drive for local children.
Miley-Figueroa was born and raised in Rockaway before moving to Manhattan about two years ago. Despite not being directly impacted by Sandy’s devastation, Miley-Figueroa still felt its effects as her old community, full of family and friends, tried to pick up the pieces. “I felt guilty. I felt like I should have been affected and I wasn’t,” Miley- Figueroa said. “I felt that nothing happened to me, so I had to make sure everyone was ok.”
She came to Rockaway immediately after the storm with supplies in hand, despite having to commute by public transportation. “I was riding the bus every day with masks, batteries, clothing, clean underwear, coffee, whatever I could carry,” she said.
Miley-Figueroa went around the neighborhood delivering supplies to friends, family members and strangers on foot. She would deliver things like cases of water to people’s houses, diapers to nursing homes and would hand out socks and other items to people on the street. She then teamed up with Sun Cycle, which turned into a relief center after the storm.
Fitness instructor Kenny Peña had started a supply and clothing drive at his studio in Manhattan, which he says Miley-Figueroa learned about through Facebook and she and her husband JP immediately offered to help. “She dropped everything, including her job to come here,” Peña said. “Her and her husband came and loaded up cars with as much as possible. They did two or three trips a day.” Kenny Peña manned a grill and made hot meals for whoever needed it, while Miley-Figueroa, putting her record management and librarian skills to work, kept the supplies and distribution organized.
Utilizing her Facebook account, Miley-Figueroa was able to secure donations from friends and strangers that weren’t in Rockaway. “I would literally put something on Facebook saying I needed something and people would show up,” she said. Some of the donations came from strangers, while some friends came from as far as Boston to bring truckloads of supplies.
“She’s a great woman,” Peña added. “She was there every day and she has kids and a job, but she put her community, her roots first.”
Miley-Figueroa also came up with idea of designing a “Support Rockaway” beverage Koozie which she sold to raise money. She raised about $400 and used the money to help people that she knew directly. She also made Koozies for Rockaway WISH, for which she became a member after Sandy.
She would later decide to run the NYC Marathon in 2013 to raise money for Rockaway WISH. “I don’t even enjoy running,” Miley-Figueroa said. While trying to balance being a mother, a wife and a full-time employee, Miley- Figueroa would wake up at 6 a.m. to train before going to work and would do it again after picking up her kids and coming home. “The training was harder than the actual marathon,” she said due to how much time she had to devote to it.
On Sunday, November 3rd, Miley- Figueroa joined the nearly 50,000 participants to run the 26.2 miles, even though she she had pulled a leg and groin muscle a few days before. She pushed through and completed the run in about six hours, making sure to sprint at the end for a strong finish. “It was just fun,” she said. “The crowd really gets you going.” Besides getting a medal for completing the marathon, Miley-Figueroa was able to raise $3,500 for Rockaway WISH, passing her personal goal by $1,000.
Miley-Figueroa’s next project is a holiday toy drive, which she successfully pulled off last December as well. After hearing friends and others saying they didn’t have enough money for toys because people weren’t getting enough money to fix their homes, Miley- Figueroa decided to help them out. She came up with a list of about 30 children in need and took to the Internet to see who was willing to donate gifts.
Using Facebook and Amazon Wish List, she spread the word about items that the children were seeking, which allowed anyone to order items directly from Amazon to be sent to her home. “I have a small apartment and at one point I couldn’t move. I had people coming over every weekend with stuff,” Miley-Figueroa said. “My UPS guy hated me because of all the packages I received. I had to tip him very good.”
Miley-Figueroa held a gift distribution party at The Wharf a few days before Christmas to give the toys to the children that were on her list. However she had last-minute donations from other groups and families. “The Gift is Love donated ornaments. The Tubridy’s donated stockings. The Knights of Columbus donated leftover toys from their drive,” she said. Her friends also helped her wrap and distribute the gifts. She had more toys than she was expecting which allowed her to give donations to kids beyond those that were on the list.
“I never thought it would be anything close to what it was. I was overwhelmed,” she said. “No one says anything about bringing something and the next thing you know, hundreds of people show up. People I hadn’t seen in years brought stuff on the list. It was nice to see everyone come together like that.” Miley-Figueroa says she was able to collect and distribute about 400 gifts. “Within two to three hours, everything was gone,” she said.
Miley-Figueroa has started another toy drive for this holiday season and has 23 children on her list so far, including one who’s currently living in an orphanage. Miley-Figueroa is hoping the drive is as successful as last year. “I’m worried because people think Sandy is over and everyone that doesn’t live in Rockaway thinks things are great. I know it’s not. It’s still hard and people are still rebuilding,” she said.
“I’m hoping for the best. I’m just going to put it out there,” Miley- Figueroa said. “I don’t know if it will take off again, but I’m hoping it does.”
A definite date and location is not yet set for the distribution, but Miley- Figueroa is aiming for December 21st. For updates, check out the “Rockaway Toy Collection” event on Facebook. The list of toys that are requested can be found by going to Amazon.com, clicking Wish List in the top right and “Find a Wish List of Registry.” The “Rockaway Toy Collection” wish list can be found by typing in Miley-Figueroa’s e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, where she can also be reached for more information.