Though its building was broken and battered by the fury of Hurricane Sandy, the spirit of the Barry and Florence Friedberg JCC — and especially the people who work and volunteer there — has remained as strong as ever.
The JCC building, located on Neil Court in Oceanside, was flooded. Most of the flooring was destroyed and the bottom three feet of the walls needed to be ripped out. The roof was also damaged.
“This was probably our most challenging time ever. We had a shattered infrastructure and no communication on either end,” said Arnie Preminger, the JCC’s executive director. “We’re the community center, we’re supposed to be out there and taking care of a community that’s in trouble, and yet we had nothing to work with.”
Since the day after the storm, donations have been pouring in from all over the area, and with them have come amazing volunteers. Even though the JCC never put out a call for volunteers to come in, they did. Even though their own homes were damaged in the storm, many showed up at the JCC to help others.
“We went in the neighborhood and sent teams of people — we had over 200 volunteers — knocking on doors to find out the status of families and find out what they needed,” said Michele Vernon, the executive director of Sunrise Day Camp, who has been spearheading the JCC’s relief efforts. “Then we provided it for them. There were some people that we learned were not in a healthy condition. We sent one person to the hospital with frostbite.”
The JCC had been collecting and receiving donations. Then volunteers began showing up to help, even though the JCC never asked them to. They filled up the volunteers’ cars with goods — everything from food to clothing to baby items to cleaning supplies — and set out into Oceanside, Island Park, Long Beach, Freeport and Merrick.
“It’s been a door to door effort,” Vernon said. “It’s been a personal effort.”
Synagogues and Jewish organizations from all over have been sending supplies and volunteers to the JCC. “The outpouring from other communities to come down and help has been just unbelievable,” said Fishkind.
The JCC is collecting now things like space heaters and cleaning supplies rather than clothes and food. And, more than anything, people need help: they need help tearing out walls and flooring or short-term rental properties while work is done on their homes.
“There are people from every age range who are going to have to start from scratch,” Vernon said. “And it’s an absolutely devastating experience to see someone go through and see their lives in rubble on the front stoop.”
“I think it was a testament to what the JCC is,” Preminger said. “Our own staff people, who’s homes were broken, were here and working out of a parking lot because we have to take care of a community.”