Islanders collect goods for displaced residents of devastated Queens communities

JIMMY RANDO PHOTO
A warning to looters in the section of Queens slammed by the tidal surge of Hurricane Sandy last week.

A relief effort born on Shelter Island is providing clothes and supplies to the people of Island Park, a small community of 5,000 that has been largely overlooked by the media and even FEMA in the days after Hurricane Sandy hit.

Because of an Island connection to that area, Shelter Island restaurants Sunset Beach and Sweet Tomato’s and the clothing shop Marie Eiffel with branches on the Island and in Sag Harbor have been collecting donations for people whose homes were damaged or destroyed.

Ms. Eiffel said in an email Monday that the businesses had collected five truckloads of food and supplies and “it was heartbreaking to hear how the people who got hit responded.”

She said Jimmy Rando had been handling the driving and distribution and “coming back with horrific stories that still make me cry,” Ms. Eiffel wrote.

Mr. Rando’s mother, Mary, who opened Sweet Tomato’s with her husband Jim more than a decade ago here, grew up in nearby Long Beach — also hard hit by the storm — and her husband grew up in Island Park, an island between the barrier beach and Long Island mainland.

According to Ms. Rando, another van also has been used: Fire Chief John D’Amato authorized the use of a department van, driven by a fireman, to make a supply run.

On another front, help has also come from Islander Susan Cronin, her husband Town Police Officer Tom Cronin and his colleague Police Officer Terrance LeGrady. Ms. Cronin posted a plea for supplies on Facebook. Her effort eventually dovetailed with collection efforts in East Hampton and Riverhead, from which Officers Cronin and LeGrady drove a 22-foot enclosed trailer loaded with donated supplies and clothes to the Long Beach area on Sunday.

FEMA turned them away and they had to leave the supplies at a church in the Seaford-Oyster Bay area, Officer Cronin said. He has a nephew in Long Beach to whom he brought a generator and a pump to get the water out of his basement.

“Long Beach looked to me like the aftermath of a nuclear blast,” said Officer Cronin. He said he remained willing to drive in his trailer if more supplies need to be transported.

Island Park is now “like a Third World country 90 miles away from us,” Ms. Rando said in a phone interview Tuesday. People with only shorts and T-shirts and no shoes are struggling to stay warm as cold weather moves in, lighting fires in what remains of their yards.

Mrs. Rando’s husband Jim operates an auto body shop in Island Park called Smoothedge. It was gutted and 46 cars destroyed by flooding, Mrs. Rando said, including the car of Our Lady of the Island Catholic Church’s priest, Father Peter DeSanctis, which was there for repairs. The Randos’ keep a home in Long Beach; it is intact and still has a gas connection so the family has been letting in neighborhood people for hot showers, Ms. Rando said.

People have been told power won’t be restored until nearly Christmastime, she said.

“We’ll recover,” Mrs. Rando commented. It’s the people of Island Park who need the help, she said, adding they are especially in need of cleaning supplies now: paper towels and spray cleaners, for example.

Her son Jimmy, reached by cellphone while he was on location in Island Park and Long Beach, said Tuesday that the National Guard was patrolling the area and that one Guardsman had told him to shoot to kill any looters and to leave the bodies in the front yard to discourage further attempts. Mr. Rando said he and his family had so far made six trips in from Shelter Island to deliver supplies.

Office Cronin also spoke of the “scary” atmosphere, with police checkpoints and ID checks and a police helicopter shining a spotlight on people.

Because FEMA rules now won’t allow loose collections of clothes and certain other goods to be brought to official collection sites, Mr. Rando said most recently he has had to drive through wrecked neighbors offering supplies to individuals.

When he first arrived with supplies last Wednesday, immediately after the storm, there was no FEMA presence and no National Guard.

Of the collection effort, Ms. Eiffel wrote, “People dropped and dropped and dropped loads of goods every day … We are overwhelmed by the response and we would like to thank the people from Shelter Island and Sag Harbor who have been so generous.”

Ms. Eiffel added that they trio was taking a break “as it has been work around the clock.”

According to Mary Rando, the first shipment from the Marie Eiffel shops came from her own inventory, brand new clothes in their store wrappings. “People were crying”to receive them, Ms. Rando said. She credited Ms. Eiffel with getting the collection effort underway.

The relief effort has been supported by the manager of Sunset Beach, Steven Janffrineau, who recently bought a house on the Island and is French, as is Ms. Eiffel.

“Every day a van is leaving the store,” she reported in an email, referring to the Marie Eiffel shops in each community, and asking for donations of food, towels and blankets, clothes and other items.

Mrs. Rando is also taking donations at her house at 19 St. Mary’s Road. She said to leave donations on her porch.

For more information, call the shop on Shelter Island at (631)749-0707 or the shop in Sag Harbor at (631)899-4332.

Other relief efforts are underway on Shelter Island too. North Ferry employee Don Young has collected supplies at the company parking lot and Captain Nick Gross is spearheading a collection as well. He’ll be using a surplus Army vehicle to drive in the goods. Nurse Mary Kanarvogel at the Shelter Island School is also conducting a collection.

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