Superstorm Sandy may have carved a costly path of destruction through New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere along the East Coast, but many businesses and individuals have found ways to open their wallets, checkbooks or hearts to help others at a time of great need. Call it the great American entrepreneurial spirit infused with a hefty dose of generosity – or just the right thing to do.
With the latest damage estimates from Sandy’s 80 mile-an-hour winds and record surge of seawater now hovering in the $50 billion range, storm-related costs will almost certainly climb in the weeks ahead – as will the human toll. Ongoing shortages of heating oil and power outages in New York and New Jersey mean businesses and residences will face increasingly colder temperatures as the mercury dips. People who have suffered severe water and structural damage are now homeless, while many of the elderly and infirm cannot get out of their homes.
Gov. Chris Christie, joined Wednesday by President Obama for a tour of the beleaguered Garden State, could have been speaking of the entire East Coast when he said of the Jersey shore, “The level of devastation is unthinkable.” In New York, the current death toll as of Saturday was 40; New Jersey has so far reported 22 deaths .
As long lines persist at numerous gas stations in the metropolitan area and as scores of people turn their thoughts to rebuilding, a number of businesses, organizations and individuals have been sharing time, money and help with hard-hit Americans, trying to restore what Sandy has so crudely taken away. Here are a few:
FITNESS CENTERS FILL CRITICAL NEED
With nearly all the municipalities in New York’s Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties in a state of emergency because of mass power outages, downed wires and widespread destruction, Equalize Fitness, a fitness center in Yonkers, New York – a city of nearly 200,000 – stepped up to the plate. The facility has thrown open its doors to local residents in need of a hot shower, a fresh cup of coffee, and a place to recharge their smart phones, laptops and other electronic devices, all for free. (As of Saturday morning, over 200,000 people in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties were still without power.)
Owner Anthony Tarricone has also gone a step further. He’s offering residents a free seven-day pass to the exercise facility so that they can stay healthy, pump iron, burn off steam in the sauna – or simply relax in a warm place. “What it boils down to is that we are really all in this together,” said Tarricone. “It’s a community effort.”
Other businesses in Westchester County are also taking part in what County Executive Rob Astorino has called Operation Hot Shower. Club Fit in Briarcliff Manor and Jefferson Valley, as well as a number of NY Sports Clubs, are participating. “All of us understand it’s not easy to be without power,” Astorino said at a press conference Friday. “On a hygiene level, we all want to feel clean and feel better about ourselves – and I know for some people, it’s been days since they were able to take a hot or warm shower.” Said Equalize Fitness’s Tarricone: “If we have the ability to help, why wouldn’t we do that?”
PHYSICIANS DONATE EXPERT CARE
Some 600 people crammed the evacuation center at Seward Park High School on Grand Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side at the peak of the storm last Monday night, and by Wednesday afternoon, that number had slimmed to about 100 as people moved uptown to shelters with power. But lunch was still served on the fifth floor, which houses the men’s and women’s dormitories, and those who received it couldn’t have been more grateful.
In the first-floor medical clinic, Dr. Galit Sacajiu, head physician, treated evacuees for free. Sacajui, director of the Haiti Medical Education Project and a professor at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, volunteered to work at least a 12-hour shift at the shelter and was treating everything from anxiety to respiratory infections while also helping evacuees get needed medications. She checked on a woman with Alzheimer’s who had been feeling disoriented. “I’ve been in Haiti a lot, but I’m here and I want to help my people at home,” Sacajiu told The Fiscal Times.
Many evacuees had concerns about not being able to reach their families and wanted to know if their apartments survived the storm. Some were forced to evacuate quickly and had left their phones and contacts behind in the scramble. Last Wednesday night, the generator failed, and nurses had to transfer some patients to another shelter in the middle of the night. One woman had trouble breathing and needed to be connected to an oxygen tank.
Ninety-six-year-old Josephine Paley, a resident of the Lower East Side since 1946, came to the shelter from her 15th-floor apartment after she woke up Tuesday morning without power or water and looked around for other tenants on her floor – but found no one. She was able to call a security guard – who sent someone to her apartment to help her evacuate.
Doctors at the shelter have been rotating shifts and some have even gone door-to-door to check in apartments and see if people were stranded and needed help. One woman in a 16th floor walk-up in Chinatown couldn’t evacuate because she needed a walker – she also needed refills of 12 different medications. Nurses said they were blown away by the generosity of the physician volunteers.
“One doctor finished her 12-hour shift at NYU and started another 12-hour shift at the clinic,” said one nurse, who asked that his name be withheld. “We’ve had doctors from both private and public hospitals come to volunteer. It’s been amazing.” Most wished they could even do more. “This is not a real clinic. We don’t have a lot of supplies or resources.”
FROM ANONYMOUS DONORS, BIG RELIEF
Hard-hit Belmar, New Jersey, long home to generations of beach-loving families as well as summer visitors from farflung points, has seen not just many of its homes and businesses destroyed but its entire boardwalk ripped to shreds. Mayor Matthew Doherty called the destruction “epic” but vowed the town will rebuild. On Saturday morning, Doherty announced the opening of a Hurricane Relief Distribution Center at the Belmar Arts Council building, in the center of town.
“We cannot express our gratitude enough to all of the people who have so generously been contributing food, clothing and time toward Belmar’s recovery,” said Doherty. “We’ve also received an outpouring of support from people all over the world through contributions ranging from $5 to $2,500 to our website, Belmar.com. With the help of local, state and federal officials, the generosity of our neighbors and the strength and resolve of our residents, Belmar will recover, repair, and rebuild.” Anonymous members of the public have been bringing numerous donations to those in need.
A gym on the town’s Main Street is also offering free food, water, clothing, and care kits – as well as cell-phone charging stations. Still, like in so many other places ravaged by Sandy, town officials even this weekend are stressing the dire need for flashlights (with batteries); “shelf-stable” food, such as canned tuna fish, peanut butter, and granola bars; and baby food and toiletries.
Editors' Note: A number of banks, cell phone providers and credit card companies are forgiving late payments in the wake of Sandy. This e-mail message from American Express to its "valued cardmembers," for example, went out on Friday: "Please be reassured that if you need support from us in the form of extended payment terms, alternative payment arrangements, or emergency card replacement, we will assist you."
Know a business or organization that is helping to bring relief to those suffering from Sandy’s impact? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.