LITTLE COMPTON — Chuck Barend’s visited many different Third World countries, and the memories of the living conditions he witnessed all came flooding back when he saw the devastation in the Rockaway Beach section of Queens, NY after Hurricane Sandy.
“There’s no power, there’s no water, there’s no heat. It definitely seems like a Third World country, which kind of blows you away,” said Mr. Barend, who was part of a Little Compton-based volunteer group that visited Rockaway Nov. 4 and delivered supplies to residents who were hit the hardest by the storm.
Volunteers are returning to Rockaway this Sunday, Nov. 11, and they need your help. On Saturday, Nov. 10, the public is invited to a cleanup of South Shore Beach in Little Compton from noon to 2 p.m. “We’re just telling people to bring gloves. We’ll have a good-sized crew cleaning up,” said Mr. Barend.
Afterwards there’s a cookout from 2-4 p.m. at his shop, Living Water Surf, 73 Simmons Road, which is also serving as one of the drop-off point for donations to Rockaway residents. You can leave items there up until about 6 p.m., he said. Other businesses accepting donations Saturday include Crowthers Restaurant (90 Pottersville Road) from 7-10 p.m., the Art Cafe (7 South of Commons Road) up until 3 p.m., Wilbur’s Store on the Commons up until 5 p.m., and Partners Village Store in Westport until 5 p.m.
“We’re going to be rounding up all that stuff and pile it in the trucks. All the trucks will probably show up at Crowthers one last time to top them off.”
The convoy will leave for New York Sunday morning around 5:30 a.m. “Last week we took three, 15-passenger vans and two full-sized trucks,” he said.
The groundswell of support started with a simple text message between two friends, Kaitlin Seyster and Wil Kinnane. “I was just watching the news the night before and I didn’t realize how severe it was for the people in New Jersey and New York. I was talking to Wil and I just though we should go there and do something to help,” said Ms. Seyster, a 26-year-old Tiverton resident.
Like several other volunteers, Wil Kinnane, 26, is a member of Surf for the Cause, which assists residents in impoverished coastal communities throughout the world. Although the Sandy relief project is unrelated to that group’s work, there is a common thread that runs between them.
“My older brother Chuck lives in Brooklyn, but he has a bungalow he shares with the surf community in Rockaway. I was talking to him about his neighbors. The whole community got destroyed,” said Mr. Kinnane, who lives in Little Compton.
In just over a day, a Facebook page had been set up and Crowthers was established as a drop-off point for donations — “anything from baby diapers to cleaning supplies and food and water,” said Mr. Kinnane — which were collected Saturday, Nov. 3. Volunteers also hit the road to collect items.
“We basically reached out to people and said if you can’t come, we’ll drive around town and pick up stuff from different houses in the area. We also went to Portsmouth and the rest of Aquidneck Island,” said Ms. Seyster.
The next morning, volunteers departed for Rockaway.
“I was really impressed with how quickly the community responded,” said Mr. Kinnane.
The Rockaway Beach Surf Club was established as the meeting place to distribute donations. When they arrived, volunteers who were spared Sandy’s fury in the East Bay were stunned at what they found.
“My first thought was, ‘Where is everyone living?’” said Mr. Kinnane. “There was nothing. You drive to the houses and they were flooded from the front door to the back. There were just skeletons of houses. It was surreal.”
“I was shocked,” said Ms. Seyster. “I didn’t realize it was that bad. I met this one lady and she just cried, she was so relieved.” Some Rockaway residents told volunteers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not helping them, she added.
Mr. Barend said he was taken aback by the mess he saw in Rockaway. “There’s so much stuff on the side of the road, like rubbish, people’s flooring and Drywall and furniture and carpet and appliances. Saltwater came in and flooded them, so if your appliances were submerged in saltwater, you kind of know that they’re wasted,” he said.
Generators are in short supply so many people are still without power, he said. On Friday he had learned that Rockaway residents were given a “ballpark figure of Thanksgiving” for their power to be restored.
“Isn’t that unbelievable? At the end of the day we get to go home and take a hot shower. You realize how cold to the core they must be and you really feel bad for them,” he said.
What’s needed most
If you’d like to donate items to Rockaway residents, Mr. Barend listed some of the things that are in greatest demand: dehumidifiers, water, nonperishable and dried food items (canned soup, pasta, cereal dried fruit, evaporated milk, crackers, peanut butter, etc.), fresh produce, Sterno kits, personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies and rubber gloves, hand sanitizer, lanterns and flashlights.
People are cold, so winter clothing, comforters, blankets and pillows are also needed, he said. “A lot of that stuff got wrecked and they don’t have the ability to wash and dry them,” Mr. Barend said, adding that the group received generous donations of high-quality clothes such as Woolrich and L.L. Bean. “When we were unloading this stuff, people were looking at the clothes and saying to us, ‘Hey, where you guys from?’”
Like Mr. Kinnane, he’s impressed with how the local community has responded to the needs of a neighborhood hundreds of miles away. And there’s more help every day. Some friends in Newport also trekked to Rockway to distribute items, and the Little Compton group has received cash donations from around the country. Locally, students at Tiverton High School and Roger Williams University, the Boy Scouts and the Greater Tiverton Community Chorus have also pledged their support. The Allen family of Little Compton went to Blount Soup Co. and collected 600 servings that will be distributed to people at the Rockaway surf club, he said.
“It’s amazing — the generosity of the people and how good the supplies are. Everyone feels blessed to help out. You go down there and you’re humbled,” said Mr. Barend.
“You kind of just see how the United States is very fortunate, but you don’t get the same feeling when you drive through parts of New York or New Jersey now.”
R.I. victims get help
Meanwhile, relief efforts continue for homeowners impacted by Sandy here in the Ocean State.
The nonprofit volunteer organization Serve Rhode Island is centering efforts around the Misquamicut neighborhood in Westerly, which was the hardest hit by the storm.
“We’ve had a tremendous response. We’ve had over 1,700 people sign up to volunteer in the past 21 days,” said executive director Bernie Beaudreau on Friday.
On the weekend after the storm, hundreds of volunteers helped clean up debris, ruined appliances and destruction from the storm for 140 homeowners. Dozens of other volunteers answered phones from people seeking help. The work is not over, however.
“There’s a lot of heavy lifting needed. I think they’re going to need some skilled people like carpenters — things like that,” said Mr. Beaudreau, adding that people should go to the website (www.serverhodeisland.org) to either volunteer or donate money toward relief efforts. “We could really use some contributions.”
Serve Rhode Island is not collecting food, clothing or supplies at this point. Mr. Beaudreau said anyone who’d like to help out in that way should contact the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale (www.jonnycakecenter.org).