Deana Johnson was first in line at the Ocean Bay Community Center in Far Rockaway. From the first day Hurricane Sandy devastated the New York area, she has had no power or heat, and her car was destroyed. She also says she registered with FEMA but never heard back from the agency.
Waiting patiently on line since 9 a.m., Johnson, along with hundreds of other people, braved inclement weather to get necessities such as food, water, cleaning supplies and clothing from a disaster relief handout Saturday afternoon.
The relief effort was organized by state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Jamaica), who had help from the United Federation of Teachers, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Transport Workers Union Local 100, radio station Hot 97 and other organizations.
“While there is a lack of coordination between the city, the state and federal government, we felt it necessary to step in and do what we have to do,” Smith said. “When New Yorkers come together to solve a crisis, they can solve anything. That’s what you’re seeing today.”
Smith said they were giving out supplies to last the week and would come back to give out more if needed.
Smith’s office on Tuesday estimated that over 1,000 people were served at the event.
Keisha Sharp was also one of the first in line. Just like Johnson, she queued up at 9 a.m. Sharp was looking to get cleaning products to get rid of mold due to the floods.
“I think it’s a good thing they’re doing for the community,” she said. “They didn’t forget about us.”
While cleaning her home was on her mind, she was strongly adamant that the tenants in her building hold a meeting to discuss a rent boycott.
“We need to have a meeting about not paying rent this month,” she said. “A lot of people here have been subjected to this treatment. We shouldn’t have to pay rent this month.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first all-black female sorority, was also on hand to help with the relief effort. Jeanine Taylor, president of the Epsilon Pi Omega chapter in southeast Queens, said that 15 to 20 members helped assist in distributing clothing, food, water, sneakers and other supplies. Members also brought canned goods and snacks and have been helping out with shelters at Queens College and York College.
The opportunity to help, Taylor said, was a moving and emotional experience.
“I’m very humbled and blessed but very grateful to help and hear from the people that we were assisting,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It was a rewarding experience. It made you reflect on everything you have and did not lose.”
John Samuelsen, president of TWU Local 100, was struck by the altruism of New Yorkers. “These types of disasters test the best and worst of people. The overwhelmingly majority of New Yorkers want to step up and help their neighbors,” he said. “That’s what the folks in our union are doing.”
Along with giving out supplies, Samuelsen also said TWU would bring generators to Far Rockaway for members to use for power.
For Johnson, the experience of waiting on line for relief was a humbling one and made her look at other destitute victims in another light.
“Never look down on nobody,” she said. “People in third-world countries, Katrina victims — now I know what they’re talking about.”
She is immensely grateful for all the help: “I appreciate everything they’re doing. It’s a blessing.”