Persons of the year: The heroes of Sandy

January 2, 2013 Editorial Staff
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It’s all about giving

Going to the beach and trying to count every single grain of sand would be quite a challenge, just like trying to number all of the good acts achieved by numerous members of the community during and after Hurricane Sandy.

This paper has kept track of some grains of love contributed by generous workers, neighbors and volunteers who went above and beyond to help others with their relief efforts. They will be forever thanked.

Bay Ridge Soup Kitchen

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Thousands of hot meals were prepared and delivered by the Bay Ridge Cares Kitchen (BRiCK), working out of St. Mary’s Church basement. The non-profit organization was created by three Bay Ridgeites after the storm hit. Justin Brannan, Allison Robicelli and Karen Tadross, along with many volunteers, assisted their neighbors by selflessly distributing a total of 25,500 meals to affected areas over a 28-day period.


A heroic act by four police officers from the 72nd Precinct deserves remembrance. Police Officers Brian Contratto, Isaac Klein, Jean Duliepre and Francis Ghanney put their own lives in danger to rescue a security guard from flood waters caused by the hurricane. They removed their guns, safety belts, ballistic vests and shirts and walked to the dock bringing the guard to safety. Hats off to them!

And, then there were the two 68th Precinct officers who during the gas shortage were directing traffic on the corner of 65th Street and Eighth Avenue when they were struck by a reckless driver, sending them with minor injuries to Lutheran Medical Center. Subsequently, another 68th Precinct officer was bitten by a different driver at another gas station. We thank them for their courageous service.

Local Groups

Active community members threw parties that acted as fundraising efforts utilizing places such as Salty Dog and churches to brighten up some of the victims’ days. As Christmas approached, Kathy Valentine, a community activist, organized a holiday party for families displaced by the hurricane and toys were given out to the kids who lost it all. Along with another local activist, Justin Brannan, shoe brought joy in the darkest of moments.

Local non-profit organizations like Viking Love NYC organized a “Dear Santa” campaign and made the dreams of some of the children affected by Sandy come true. Aside from their endless efforts in cleaning up, delivering food and joining the Bay Ridge Cares kitchen, the open-hearted folks at the Pour House made sure that the kids received what each kid deserves, a dose of happiness.

Seven hundred people attended the “Bands for the Beach” Sandy relief fundraiser which took place on Friday, November 30 in the auditorium of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; $40,000 was raised at the event, destined for three charities: The Greybeards, Rockaway Wish, and The Breezy Point Relief Disaster Fund.

Act-Out Acting School hosted a benefit concert called Act-Out for New York: A Concert to Benefit the Victims of Hurricane Sandy.” The two-hour performance featured musical theatre performances of pieces from “Evita,” as well as folk, pop and rock musicians performing Lady Gaga songs, and more.

Emergency Personnel

No one in particular, but the entire crew from the community emergency response team (CERT) stood out when they made it their responsibility to aid their neighbors, said team President Janet General. “We could go wherever we were needed,” General exclaimed. The whole team spent numerous days in Staten Island as they got orders to be at the scene from the city’s Office of Emergency Management. “Everyone was there for one reason: to help out neighbors,” for two to three weeks subsequent to the disaster, said General.

Sanitation Workers

Angelo Vella, 55, from Carroll Gardens has spent 12-hour shifts, seven days a week removing debris from Red Hook. He’s originally from Carroll Gardens and has been personally affected by the devastation. He currently houses his 78-year-old mother-in-law and his 90-year-old father-in-law whose home is under repair. “I can’t say it’s a pleasure helping people in these situations,” Vella exclaimed.

During his 23 years of service, Vella thinks he has collected as much as 100,000 pounds of garbage, adding that he loves his job and is dedicated to putting both of his beautiful daughters through college.

Although his body aches, this sanitation worker along with his partner, collects storm debris by hand day after day. “It’s my duty to serve the people of New York,” he explained. When asked about the area that he serves, he said, “Red Hook sticks together. They didn’t complain; they took what happened, cleaned up their house; they say thank you, not one word of complaint.” Thank you, Angelo Vella.

Another outstanding member of the community is Paul Panepinto, who’s originally from Staten Island, but has worked 42 days straight in the hardest-hit areas of Coney Island doing heavy work which includes picking up debris and garbage while conducting his daily responsibilities.

“I did it as if it was my own home,” Panepinto explained, saying that he even went over fences to clean up, something sanitation workers don’t usually do. “A lot of these people lost a lot, all their memories. It’s kind of hard to deal with this,” the 46-year-old Panepinto said.

When asked why he went above and beyond to help others, he said, “It’s the right thing to do,” adding that these are people he sees everyday whom he considers like family. Panepinto asked himself “Who am I to be unhappy,” when all he had lost was power, adding that what has come out of this experience includes “Better appreciation for what it is [that] we do,” he said. “It’s an important service that makes a difference every day.”

Michael Brownfeld, 47, collected debris in Manhattan Beach, Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach. “It’s pretty sad, seeing people throw out their homes/ their lives in the garbage,” he said. Brownfeld put in 12-hour shifts in the beginning when the storm first hit, and is now working eight-hour shifts due to some progress in the area. “On behalf of the Department of Sanitation, I think they did a phenomenal job in getting us out there to do what we needed to do.”

Brownfeld said he had never seen such destruction in the past. Although he helped out in the clean-up process for 9/11, this “hit home,” he exclaimed. From the people who he’s helped, he’s received nothing but “praise,” adding that they were ecstatic and couldn’t be happier for these workers’ hard work. “We have a job to do for the city of New York,” Brownfeld concluded.


P.S 186 is among those which came forward; approximately 70 teachers and paraprofessionals went out on November 6, Election Day, visiting sites in Rockaway, Park Slope, Gerritsen Beach, Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge and the Midland area of Staten Island. They helped to organize and distribute food, and purchase goods and cleaning supplies, and delivered them to those in need.

Marian Hughes, a teacher at P.S 186, said that the experience was “both humbling and rewarding.” The entire staff worked together to give back to the community in such difficult times, explained Assistant Principal Rina Horne.

Visitation Academy also did its part, beginning with accepting children from other schools who were displaced. Nine families from the school were directly impacted, losing their homes. To help them out, the Visitation Academy Federation sent money and gift cards from throughout the country, said Arlene Figaro, principal of the school. The school also collected $2,700 for Sandy relief at its Annual “Ladies Night Out.”

Students at P.S 112 collected 20 boxes of non-perishable food items and toiletries for those directly impacted, and brought them on Thursday, November 29 to this newspaper’s office at 88th Street and Third Avenue. The boxes were brought in by teacher Mary Kayser.

And, then there were the kids from Fontbonne Hall Academy. Even before school resumed, Sister Dolores Crepeau, the principal of Fontbonne, began to assist the school’s 79 suddenly homeless families with resettlement, fielding phone calls, emails and text messages from the concerned community.

Fontbonne’s Student Activities Council organized collections for much-needed items, as well as donations of gift cards. Many students have responded by volunteering in their own communities, and collecting school uniforms and shoes so that students whose families lost their possessions and homes are comfortable returning to school.

Also in Bay Ridge, the P.S 102 school community has collected and sent clothing to Good Shepherd Church and Reaching Out Community Services; it has participated in a food drive, sent five vans full of needed items to areas that were hit by the storm, and will joined a toy drive for the holiday season.

Efforts at Xaverian High School to aid those in distress also have been underway; a uniform and everyday goods drive was organized immediately after the storm in order to help students return to their school routines as quickly as possible.

Faculty members rolled up their sleeves and helped with the cleanup process in the hardest hit areas; middle school students organized a drive to create customized care packages that contained gift cards and everyday items that families lost during the storm.

Students have also coordinated a Toys for Tots donation drive, and The Interact Club, a student service club at Xaverian, organized a bake sale and raffle in order to raise money for the Graybeards in Rockaway.

Students at P.S. 506, the School for Journalism and Technology, contributed to the victims of Hurricane Sandy by collecting both goods and money adding up to $3,600, that were to be split between the Bay Ridge Cares pop-up kitchen and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund.

The giving continues on the college level. Brooklyn College teamed up with Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs to end hunger during the holidays; not only did they hold their fourth annual food drive, but this year in addition to the over 500 pounds of food collected for several local pantries, the coalition contributed hundreds of items to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, including clothes, baby supplies, kids’ toys, pet food, and much more.

“In light of both Hurricane Sandy and ongoing economic hardship in our communities, it is essential to ensure that our friends and neighbors have access to nutritious food, as well as the good they need to rebuild their lives,” Jacobs said.

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