STATEN ISLAND, N.Y.—Staten Island hit the spotlight for all the wrong reasons last week. The southwestern portion of the island, closer to New Jersey than Manhattan or Brooklyn, was among those hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Dozens of homes were damaged beyond repair, displacing families who now face the task of rebuilding their lives.
The island lost an estimated 20 residents out of 42 dead citywide, according to the city’s Office of Emergency Management.
Fifteen thousand people remain without power, and may not get plugged back in until Nov. 12.
But the hordes of volunteers who have descended on the island since last Wednesday have heartened those who have lost so much. One resident estimated thousands of volunteers have come since Oct. 31, a day and a half after Sandy hit.
“Seriously, this week, everybody is asking me if I’m hungry—I mean you can literally get fat in here in these five days,” said Oleg Krivenko, who lived in a second floor apartment on Staten Island in Tottenville, between Hylan Boulevard and the Lower Bay. His home was flooded by the storm and condemned by the city. He is currently staying with friends while he looks for a new place to live.
While Red Cross, FEMA, and the National Guard have pitched in, the volunteers span across the mid-level volunteer relief—churches and community organizations—down to individuals from across the city and country.
“The volunteers that we’ve had are unbelievable,” said a resident who wished to remain unnamed. “I can’t believe the amount of people who have come to help.”
Jordan Beyar, who lives on Staten Island’s North Shore, was among the volunteers on Sunday. He began Saturday morning, helping in Midland Beach and St. Joseph’s by the Sea High School before making his way to Tottenville.
“It’s been crazy,” said Beyar. “It’s refreshing to see so many people coming, though. People are just coming from all over.”
Beyar said people had come from Virginia and Pennsylvania. One of his friends flew in from Boston Saturday to pitch in before heading back that night.
“We’re a people that will do this for strangers,” said Nicolas Doneff from Colorado, who was with the crisis division of the Evangelical Free Church of America. “It’s Americans, we’re a culture that will help strangers.”
Volunteers and organizations were handing out piles of supplies at two stations in Tottenville—everything from toilet paper to Twizzlers. They had received so many clothes over the past few days they had stopped taking them, but were still accepting items such as pillows and blankets.
Meanwhile, scores of city workers, representing the departments of transportation and sanitation, as well as the NYPD and FDNY, controlled traffic, kept an eye on things, and moved debris with large vehicles.
Tanya Napolitano was with four friends who had come to lend a hand.
“How could you not want to help them?” she said, adding that she was amazed by the number of volunteers both in Tottenville and at South Beach, an area on the island that is across the water from Brooklyn’s Sea Gate neighborhood.
Nicole Spana said people from other areas were worried about when their power will come on but “when you see this…”
“You feel a little guilty,” said Melissa Napolitano.
As dusk began to fall and the wind chill increased, volunteers began handing out dinner: spaghetti.
Just before Krivenko, who had lost his home, turned away, he said he was going to look for a new house.
Where, Staten Island?
Yes, he nodded, smiling. “But not by the water.”
And as he bade goodbye, a volunteer came up to him.
“Is there anything you need?”
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