We at the Amsterdam News want to give thanks this busy, busy holiday season to the hundreds if not thousands of unsung heroes of the tri-state area who are helping pull the region out of the prolonged aftermath of a tragic natural disaster.
Some homes are still without heat and hot water three weeks after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York, New Jersey and other parts of the Eastern Seaboard.
Low-lying and coastal areas got hammered by the relentless rain and winds. The surges took life, property and the dreams of thousands.
While he visited and consoled residents on the affluent south shore of Staten Island, President Barack Obama did not ease the feelings of abandonment when he merely flew over the Rockaways–where many Black folks had already complained about being initially ignored by emergency services like FEMA and the Red Cross.
Unpaid volunteers motivated by goodwill and compelled by a sense of community have given up their time and energy to help next-door and across-town neighbors.
“The community has come through as we help the victims of Hurricane Sandy,” said Jeffrey Gordon, manager of the Peacekeepers–a three-year-old organization that mentors youth in the community. “We have worked with different organizations like SKIP–Support for Kids of Incarcerated Parents–and Trinity Justice Ministries. We came together to try and address the needs of the people. We first went out to Far Rockaway on Nov. 3. We took baby supplies because they said they needed things like Pampers and formula. We got the supplies together and we went out there, and we have been going out there every weekend to distribute the supplies.”
Gordon said that this community service is just an extension of the work they have been doing for the last few years. He told the AmNews, “We try and uplift the youth in the community with positive images and getting them away from some of the negative things they may have been into; and we try and get them jobs.
“Myself and another manager work in construction, so when we hear about an opening, we tell the young people so that they can get work and try and be productive members of society.”
For Thanksgiving, the Peacekeepers will be hosting a dinner in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, at the Bi Polar Bar & Lounge, 2588 Atlantic Ave., at Georgia Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We are bringing families from Far Rockaway to eat Thanksgiving dinner. We are sitting down to eat with them, and then we will bus them back home to Far Rockaway. Some of the food was donated, a lot of it we paid out of pocket, and contributions also came from restaurants and stores who donated food and dishes to the effort,” he said.
Gordon said volunteers can join in if they can get to the venue by 10 a.m. on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. For more information, call 347-564-7743.
Milan Rasheed Taylor, the 23-year-old founder of the Rockaway Youth Task Force, is another unsung hero who has worked tirelessly in his Queens community.
“My motivation, honestly, is that no one else was doing it, and I couldn’t just sit around and allow it to go on. I felt it needed to be done,” said the young student.
Taylor formed his organization 18 months ago to give young people the opportunity to have a platform and speak with a united voice. Since Hurricane Sandy assaulted the New York tri-state area, Taylor and his group organized a commendable relief effort for those who have lost so much in the Rockaways.
Camera crews, print and radio journalists and bloggers and tweeters captured the chaos and the perceived initial incompetence of a city/state overwhelmed by an unprecedented natural disaster that leveled key services and industries on the East Coast. Weeks later, however, some of those complaints have not gone away; and heat and hot water still have not returned. The New York City Housing Authority was only able to turn the power on for most of its tens of thousands of residents last week.
As the Rockaway Youth Task Force got in the trenches amid the debris and the confusion, they were assisted by the services of volunteers who came from miles around. Taylor told the Amsterdam News, “People came from all over the city, and brought us supplies and helped us hand them out.”
Taylor said that in the last three weeks or so, they had given out supplies to hundreds of stranded and in-need residents, climbing stairwells up to the darkened 19th floor in many a Rockaway high-rise building.
He noted, however, that his task force is suspending distribution of food and supplies this week, as they focus on preparing to host Thanksgiving dinner for storm victims–many of whom still do not have heat and hot water.
“We want to focus on preparing for the dinner. We were able to hire a caterer through our budget, but we are also asking people to bring in food and volunteer.” Volunteers are needed from 11 a.m. onward, he said.
The work of the task force has been acknowledged in many a quarter, and there has been some media attention.
“I actually took a picture with Bill Clinton on Sunday,” said Taylor. “He came to the Rockaways with his daughter Chelsea. But really, we are doing the work because the people need us here.”
He adds, “I went to Central Connecticut State University for two years, then I went to John Jay to be closer to home and do community service work. I am a senior and I study political science at John Jay. When I graduate, I would definitely like to get involved in public service and expand the task force into a not-for-profit.
“I never expected to get any accolades. I didn’t do it for that, but it is nice to be recognized,” he said.
On Thursday, the Rockaway Youth Task Force Thanksgiving dinner will be held at the community center at 321 Beach 57th St. at Arvene Boulevard from 3 to 6 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.