“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.” — Fred Rogers
With these words in mind, we didn’t have to look very hard to find our helper, our caring person. For her quick actions during and after Hurricane Sandy, her ongoing desire to help others and her nearly singlehanded ability to mobilize an entire community to action, the Herald’s choice for 2012 Person of the Year is Elizabeth Daitz.
When Daitz, 32, the daughter of an East Rockaway firefighter, heard the many calls for rescues the night Hurricane Sandy barreled into town, she was moved to action. She lives at First Avenue and Williamson Street, and was eventually displaced by the storm, but on the night of Oct. 29, she kept in touch with her father, Leon, a member of the Fire Department’s rescue unit. The next day she found out that, due to flooding, both the Main Street firehouse and fire headquarters command units had to be moved farther north, to Village Hall grounds.
“I asked what they needed, and they said blankets and toiletries,” Daitz recounted in an earlier Herald interview. So she and her friend Debbie Hansen dropped some things off, but then stayed to manage what Daitz thought would be a table full of supplies. That table turned out to be woefully inadequate in the face of an outpouring of donations.
Daitz soon joined forces with East Rockaway Fire Chief Steve Torborg, who told her that the Red Cross was coming and wanted to use the firehouse as a distribution center — but for the time being, the agency had been diverted to Island Park. “We needed some sort of security to watch the items,” Daitz said, “so I arranged for [Dep. Inspector] Diane LauKaitis and the Auxiliary Police to help us. We put a plan in place and started taking donations.”