Areas south of Woodhaven suffered the most damage due to flooding and high tides, a deadly combination that left many residents stranded in their homes and emergency service personnel with no way of reaching them.
In comparison, Woodhaven suffered far less damage, but that does not mean it escaped unscathed. While areas close to the water suffered from flooding, residents of Woodhaven faced dangerous conditions involving high winds, falling trees and downed power lines.
Residents calling in reports of downed trees and power lines also fed the information to the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, which kept a running list throughout the storm. By the afternoon after the storm, that list had topped 35 locations.
One casualty of Hurricane Sandy was the nearly 100-foot-tall tree at Forest Parkway and Jamaica Avenue that served as Woodhaven’s Christmas Tree for several decades. The storm ripped it out of the ground at the roots.
Communities in New York and New Jersey were devastated. The call went out for help and the residents of Woodhaven responded in a big way. People stopped by the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association office asking “What do you need?”
Then they would either head home or off to one of the local shops and come back with an armload of goods.
Residents opened their drawers and their closets and donated a tremendous amount of clothing, which was desperately needed by people who had lost everything.
In all, over 1,200 bags stuffed full of clothing made its way through the doors of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association where dozens of volunteers spent hours sorting through and organizing the many thousands of items that were donated.
A word about the volunteers – they never stopped coming in. Every day, we literally had more bodies than we knew what to do with.
One quiet young woman came in and took over the sorting and organizing of clothes, day after day. She was joined by another young woman who spoke no English and yet, the two of them were able to communicate. They ate lunch together, they were a team.
About a dozen or so residents formed the first caravan that made its way to Howard Beach, down streets that were without traffic lights and strewn with the personal belongings of people whose homes were overrun by the tides.
When we arrived at one relief location, the people we met there were cold and shell-shocked. Their clothes were damp, and they were grateful for every piece of clothing that was donated.
And because residents of Woodhaven had spent the time sorting and organizing donations, it was very easy for people to pick out exactly what they needed.
The residents of Woodhaven were also very generous with their money, donating over $3,500 to the cause over just a couple of days, with many of the donations in the form of $1 and $5 increments.
Residents held a touching “Flashlight Vigil” for the victims of Hurricane Sandy at Jamaica Avenue and Forest Parkway at the base of our fallen Christmas Tree. It was just like a candlelight vigil except that everyone brought flashlights with fresh batteries, which they left afterwards to be delivered to the Rockaways.
In the end, when we still had some money left over, we donated it to a soccer league in the Rockaways that had lost everything.
The residents’ hard work and generosity was an inspiration, and put to rest the perception that the Woodhaven of today is a town where people do not care about their neighbors.
It was a remarkable achievement, done without the rancor and bitterness that has pervaded some of the recent relief efforts in surrounding neighborhoods. There were no worries over how much recognition we received, or what other organizations were doing.
It was a stirring effort that truly came straight from the heart and made a direct impact on the lives of our neighbors, who were in desperate need of a helping hand, and one of the moments I was most proud to be a resident of this community.