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Local volunteers help Sandy victims

Only four days after Hurricane Sandy struck the Rockaways, Cross River resident Alison Giglio sprang into action, rallying a group of concerned Lewisboro residents to lend aid to the devastated area and its hard-hit residents.

“We filled a 37-foot moving van donated by the McAvey Moving Co. with all kinds of donated relief items,” Ms. Giglio said. “Food, clothing, cleaning supplies, blankets, diapers — you name it and it was loaded up.”

Ms. Giglio was born and raised in Rockaway Beach and has a large network of family and friends still on the peninsula. “To say what happened there has hit me hard does not even begin to describe my feelings,” she said. “But the people of Lewisboro have been absolutely wonderful, leading to the organization of our volunteer relief group, H2H, which stands for Hand to Heart Northern Westchester, NY.”

Lewisboro residents and members of Hand to Heart Northern Westchester, NY (H2H) gather at the home of Cross River resident Alison Giglio after Hurricane Sandy to collect donations for the storm victims. Members of the group have been visiting Sandy-damaged areas and helping victims in the months following the October hurricane. (Gwen Griffith Photo)

First impressions

Ms. Giglio, who has lived in Cross River with her husband, Robert, and children, Jamie and Jeremy, since 1999, is no stranger to community service. “I have worked for years with the Community Center of Northern Westchester as a volunteer and board member and am now a community partner,” she said. “I am also a certified first responder for natural disasters, with training in relief and recovery.”

Ms. Giglio and her group targeted Breezy Point, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park, and Broad Channel as the sites for their first four drops from the van.

“When we arrived, the scene was overwhelming,” she said. “Not only the physical scope of the destruction, which as we all know was immense, but the chaos that followed. There were hundreds of well-meaning volunteers, but no organization. People were wandering around, lost, scared, and crying. The amount of donations, from around the area and around the country, was enormous. But there was total disorganization and complete unpreparedness for getting things to the people that needed them.”

Fortunately, as time went by the chaos subsided and relief efforts became more focused.

Linking to Habitat

Bolstered by her group of very willing volunteers, which kept on growing, Ms. Giglio decided to form H2H and go on what she calls a “fact-finding mission.”

“We made several more relief trips, stopping at all of the drop points that had been organized,” she said. “We found out what was needed and set about collecting it. We were also very fortunate to be introduced to Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester.”

Ms. Giglio said Habitat for Humanity was highly organized with maps, tools, supplies, information, and most importantly, leadership and transportation to job sites.

“I was amazed at how they had pulled everything together, and we decided to forge a relationship with them.”

Ms. Giglio said H2H initially brought 40 volunteers to work with Habitat for Humanity in November. “Now that number has grown to at least 300,” she said. “As soon as we got there, they put us to work, and now we go down every single week for two or three days.”

H2H volunteers are currently working on deconstruction of damaged buildings and are still dropping off donated items. “It’s a very strange feeling to go into some of the neighborhoods that I remember,” she said. “Breezy Point is basically a ghost town with no one living there at all. And there are still lots of people on the peninsula with no power in their damaged homes.”

Networking

Ms. Giglio said H2H is working with other organizations to enhance relief efforts. “We are actively trying to form more of a network and have better communications,” she said. “Different organizations have different skills and purposes, and we need to work together in a coordinated manner.”

H2H will be involved with the Rockaway relief effort “for as long as it takes.”

“We are only at the beginning of this and are still looking for additional volunteers and more donations,” Ms. Giglio said. “So far we have been very fortunate in both areas.”

Ms. Giglio said the Lewisboro response has been substantial, with donations from many parts of the community.

These include DeCicco’s supermarket, which is collecting monetary donations at checkout as well as donating food and supplies; the Harvey School, which sent students and teachers down to do work; the Katonah-Lewisboro school district and Reach Out John Jay, donating school supplies and gift cards and “adopting” the Long Beach School District; the John Jay lacrosse team, sending 40 young people to do deconstruction work; St. Mary’s Church of Katonah; St. John’s Episcopal Parish; and the South Salem Fire Department — all collecting needed items and sending volunteers.

“There are others I know that I have not mentioned, and I want to thank them all,” she said.

According to Ms. Giglio, H2H “has spread like wildfire but is only a drop in the bucket compared to what has to be done.”

“We are still in the early stages of this,” she said. “There are still people with no electricity or heat after all this time. At this point, we are looking mostly for gift cards and cash donations. We are also thinking of starting an Adopt a Family and Adopt a Street program through partnering with Habitat for Humanity. This will provide one-on-one involvement.”

H2H has scheduled a meeting for Sunday, Feb. 24, to discuss its future plans and initiatives. “We have not yet picked a location, but anyone interested in joining in with us can email h2hrelief@yahoo.com or visit our Facebook page: H2H Northern Westchester NY.”

Ms. Giglio said she expects the Rockaways to recover fully from Sandy.

“The people of the Rockaway peninsula and Broad Channel are a proud, strong and determined group,” she said. “I am confident they will experience a full recovery over time with the assistance of all the wonderful volunteer organizations now on the ground and the grace of God.”

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