by Laura Schofer
For 35 years Frank Cesare of Baldwin served his country. He is a Korean war veteran who spent time in the Falkland Islands, followed by 15 years as an Army reservist. Fast forward to October 29 when superstorm Sandy barreled through the front door of his home on Eastern Parkway, flooding his home with four feet of water and sewage.
“I figured we’d be okay,” said the 83- year-old Mr. Cesare. “FEMA gave us nothing but I’ve had flood insurance since 1978 [when Congress first made it available in New York state]. I’m a preferred customer with Allstate, insured for $250,000 for flood damage. I got $50,000. They said ‘sorry pal.’ I was on my own.”
His country may have let him down, but he wasn’t alone, thanks to Friends of Freeport, a grassroots group of Freeport volunteers who have been rebuilding the homes and lives of Sandy victims.
This past Saturday morning an army of volunteers showed up at Mr. Cesare’s house, a sea of red shirts ready to rebuild his home. They were insulating and sheetrocking walls as well as weeding and cleaning out the garden outside the house. Forty volunteers – from seven to seventy – spent all of Saturday “rebuilding” the house.
“This is our first time venturing outside of Freeport,” explained Rich Cantwell, President of Friends of Freeport. “We are just doing our thing here, helping a neighbor,” he said.
It was very much like an old fashioned barn raising, people pitching in to help one another.
“We started doing this the day after the storm,” said Mr. Cantwell. “It was me and Debbie Becker. Everybody [on the waterfront] was devastated. We had to help. So it was one house after another, after another.”
Gail Luksch of Polk Street in Freeport said “they just came by and said, ‘what can we do to help,’ and they did. They picked me up and gave me strength to carry on. Now I’m here to help someone else.”
“That’s the way it works,” said Mr. Cantwell. “We have volunteers here who are still out of their homes, but they know everybody is hurting. When we hear that someone needs help, we show up.”
That’s what happened with Mr. Cesare. Anne Trimboli, Mr. Cesare’s daughter, said she learned about the Friends of Freeport from a friend at St. Christopher’s School. “My friend is from Freeport and knew about this group. She told them my Dad’s situation. They interviewed him and said they’d be here to help.”
Mr. Cesare smiled as he surveyed the work. “Fantastic people,” he said.
Friends of Freeport will be at the Cesare home this weekend as well to finish up what they started. Along the way they also picked up a new volunteer. One of Mr. Cesare’s neighbors saw the activity and spoke with Mr. Cantwell. “I’ll help; we’re neighbors,” she said.
“That’s how this thing works,” said Mr.Cantwell. “We’re on our own. This is the only way we are going to get back on our feet. One house at a time; one neighbor at a time.”