Returning the favor

Freeporters mobilize to help Hurricane Harvey victims

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Right-turn signals blinked in unison as cars lined up to make the right into The Cop Shop, a police apparel store on Broadway in Massapequa, where Long Island Lions Clubs were holding a Hurricane Harvey emergency relief supply drive on Sept. 2.

Families from Freeport to East Meadow, Massapequa and Mineola unloaded boxes full of non-perishable food, blankets and other emergency supplies to send to Harvey victims in Texas. The massive effort was a weekend-long drive to fill a 53-foot-long tractor-trailer with as many supplies as possible.

Among the volunteers was Freeporter Kristin Elmore, of Food Is Free, a nonprofit organization that offers free fresh fruits and vegetables every Friday at corner of Centre Street and Park Avenue in Freeport. She worked alongside her neighbors to bring items collected in Massapequa to Long Beach, where they were shipped to Texas. Her effort, she said, will continue until further notice.

“As long as trucks are going to Texas, I’ll continue to collect items to send,” Elmore said.

Tropix on the Mile, an eatery on Woodcleft Avenue in Freeport, is a designated donation drop-off location. Tropix has been working with CL Visual, a Long Island printing company, to fill one or two box trucks a day with supplies bound for Texas.

“We fill box trucks every night,” Donna Gelish, the Tropix manager, said. “People are amazed at the outpouring of items that are coming in … All of Freeport knows how critical these things are. We are just so happy to be able to help.”

State Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, has partnered with Ben’s General Contracting Corp. in Freeport to accept ongoing donations.

Friends of Freeport, a local nonprofit organization that has been helping Freeporters rebuild since Hurricane Sandy, has also created awareness of the plight of Texans. According to president and cofounder Lois Howes, the group is also sending hygiene kits to Texas and Louisiana.

Facebook groups like “Sandy Loves Harvey” have sprung up, with Long Islanders sharing their personal experiences in dealing with insurance companies, contractors and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On Saturday, Joe Chiarelli posted on Facebook quick tips on how to deal with a FEMA adjuster and how to make the rebuilding process move faster. “Tell victims of flooding to take pictures, pictures and more pictures of the damage before they throw it away,” Chiarelli’s post read. “Pictures of the water line are highly valuable. Save samples of the rugs, tiles, serial numbers of appliances, etc. for proof ... from a Sandy victim to a Harvey victim, good luck.”

According to the National Weather Service, Harvey is one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Texas in 50 years. The massive storm left more than a million people displaced, over 200,000 homes damaged, roughly 60 people dead and destruction stretching across 300 miles. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are staying in shelters in Texas and Louisiana.

It has been almost five years since Hurricane Sandy wrecked Long Island and 12 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana. Today, Sandy survivors are still rebuilding, and understand the nightmarish realities that many Texans affected by Harvey are enduring. Ready to come to their aid, the 35 Long Island Lions organizations, including Freeport’s, rallied to collect items to send to Texans in need of aid. Dedicating their Labor Day weekend to collecting and boxing the items, hundreds of local residents showed their support.

“This is what Lions do. We are community-oriented,” Anthony Paradiso, the Lions Club of Rockville Centre past district governor, said of last weekend’s relief effort in Massapequa. “Our motto is, ‘We serve.’ The clubs in Texas can’t really do much to alleviate the situation in their own communities. We’re in a position to do so, even though we’re hundreds of miles away.”

“When we were dealing with Sandy, they did exactly the same for us,” he continued. Texans “knew that we weren’t in a position to mobilize in order to meet our community needs, and they did so for us. We’re just returning the favor.”

At the Massapequa drop-off point, volunteers worked quickly to sort donations and package them for shipment to Texas. Donations were taken until 6 p.m. on Saturday.

“Besides sending all of this food and personal care items,” Camille Raya, the Bellmore Lions Club district chaplain, said, “we’re also sending them our thoughts, prayers and love. They need our emotional and moral support, besides the physical, nutritional and personal care items we’re sending them.”

With the help of Phoenix Charity, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that aids human-trafficking victims, the Lions are preparing to fill a second tractor-trailer. “Moments like this warm my soul and heart,” said Sharon Moskowitz, a past district governor and the co-chairwoman of the Freeport Lions Club.