When East Rockaway resident Elizabeth Daitz, the daughter of a firefighter, heard the many calls for rescues on the night Hurricane Sandy came to town, she was moved to action.
“These guys are the real heroes,” she said of the members of the East Rockaway Fire Department. “They pulled people out of their houses, out of the water, all night long.” Before the superstorm was over and in the days afterward, the department would respond to some 200 calls.
Daitz, who lives at First Avenue and Williamson Street and was displaced by the storm, said that she kept in touch with her father, Leon Daitz, a member of the East Rockaway Rescue Unit, during the night of Oct. 29. The next day, she found out that both the Main Street firehouse and fire headquarters command units had to be moved to the Village Hall grounds.
“I asked what they needed, and they said blankets and toiletries,” Daitz recounted. So she and her friend Debbie Hansen dropped some things off, and stayed to manage what she thought would be a table full of supplies. That table turned into an outpouring of donations the likes of which the village has never seen.
Daitz 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 Diane LauKaitis and the Auxiliary Police to help us. We put a plan in place and started taking donations.”
That grass-roots effort, starting with a single table, ultimately attracted so much clothing and other much-needed supplies that East Rockaway became a distribution center for neighboring communities that were also hit hard by the storm. “We’ve sent things to Island Park, Oceanside, Long Beach, Staten Island, Far Rockaway, among other areas,” Daitz said. The Main Street firehouse became a distribution center for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as well, with FEMA officials trusting their supply of ready-to-eat meals and bottled water to members of the Fire Department and other residents who came to help.