Local group the11518's East Rockaway pub crawl to benefit Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico

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As Hurricane Florence battered the Carolinas last week, members of the East Rockaway group the11518 were busily preparing for their annual pub crawl on Saturday, which will benefit hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico as it continues to recover a year after Hurricane Maria struck.

“Right after the storm, you get a bunch of donations,” the11518 co-founder Joe Forgione said. “But after the immediate relief leaves and the media coverage is gone, there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”

The ER4PR Pub Crawl will include stops at seven East Rockaway taverns and restaurants. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Puerto Rico-based La Maraña, a grass-roots nonprofit group led by women that is helping with ongoing recovery efforts in the wake of Maria.

A helping hand

Forgione founded the11518 with his wife, Lauren, and their friend Dan Caracciolo. The group came together in 2012 as a Hurricane Sandy recovery organization, but has shifted its focus to inspire ideas, initiatives and projects that support East Rockaway’s future, while also giving back to other areas hit by natural disasters.

Forgione, who is still in the process of elevating his Sandy-damaged home, said that the pub crawl, now in its third year, began as a fundraiser to aid those whose lives were upended by disasters.

Caracciolo said the crawl is a way to give back to another community while also bringing East Rockaway residents together, supporting local businesses and showcasing the revitalized waterfront nearly six years after Sandy. He added that the group was tracking Florence and might organize another fundraiser to aid its victims.

Supporting La Maraña

In Maria’s wake, La Maraña envisioned a Puerto Rico where every community could take charge of its own future. It has rebuilt parks, redesigned storm-damaged neighborhoods, raised funds to support construction projects and formed cleanup brigades to help restore wrecked homes.

Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20, 2017, wreaking havoc on the island. The death toll has been contested. Puerto Rican government officials faced scrutiny after they announced that 64 people had died, because evidence suggested there were more casualties. On Aug. 28, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló revised the death toll to 2,975. Additionally, about 3.4 million people lost power after Maria struck.

Frances Medina, a volunteer communications strategist for La Maraña, said that many areas of the island still do not have electricity, and there are myriad infrastructure issues. Many schools and hospitals remain closed a year after the storm.

Despite the issues, Medina noted, Puerto Ricans have supported one another. “What I’ve seen personally has been just incredible organizing, grass-roots organizing,” she said. “People helping people. Regular people rolling up their sleeves and getting people help. What I haven’t seen is government support, which has been the case since Day One.”

Medina’s family is from Puerto Rico, and she said she was supposed to move there from Brooklyn two weeks after the storm, but had to delay the move until June because of the damage. La Maraña, she said, was originally a design firm focused on developing plans for parks and abandoned properties in Puerto Rico. After the storm, the group’s focus shifted to recovery.

Its major project, Imaginación Post-María, is all about aiding in the recovery, while also developing plans to harden infrastructure to protect against other big storms over the long term. More than 30 people work for the firm, which hires local coordinators to lead each community’s recovery and construction workers to repair damaged properties. La Maraña is mostly grant-funded, Medina added. The efforts have focused on three areas: the mountainous region of Comerío in the central-eastern part of the island, the industrial community of San Antón in the south, and the rural area of Mariana, a village in the municipality of Humacao, on the eastern coast.

Caracciolo and Forgione are familiar with long-range planning, because they both serve on the Living with the Bay Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Rivermill Watershed Project. The project is part of the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery’s Rebuild by Design initiative, which began after Sandy to make South Shore communities along Mill River — which runs from Hempstead Lake south to Hewlett Bay, just south of Bay Park — more resistant to future storms, and to improve the quality of life in those areas. Caracciolo said that committee member Daniel Horn told them about La Maraña, and its emphasis on long-term planning was why it was chosen as the beneficiary of this year’s pub crawl.

“We were like, ‘Wow, this is like a mirror image of us in a sense, but in Puerto Rico,’” Caracciolo said, comparing the11518 and La Maraña. “We sort of had somewhat of a Sandy connection, in a sense.”

Crawling through East Rockaway

This is the third year of the pub crawl, and more than 250 participants helped raise $10,000 for both Together Baton Rouge, a charity helping post-flood victims in Louisiana, at the inaugural crawl in 2016, and Next Step Ministries, a community-development group that helped Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas, at last year’s event. Caracciolo and the Forgiones said they hope to raise at least $10,000 for Maria victims.

The crawl will take place from 1 to 8 p.m., with registration beginning at noon at Michael’s Porthole, at 92 New St. in East Rockaway. Participating businesses include Barrier Brewing Co., Reel, Lazy Lobster, Grandpa Tony’s, the Bold O’Donoghue’s and Mr. Beery’s Village Pub.

Noreen Donovan, Reel’s manager, said that everyone at the restaurant was happy to help. “We really want to become a major part of the community, and this is kind of a staple in East Rockaway, and it’s great for business as well,” she said of the crawl. “It’s a great cause, and it’s good for us for people to get into the restaurant as well, so it’s a win-win.”

Medina said she was grateful for the support from East Rockaway businesses and the11518. “Right now, funds are low, and we need all the help we can get,” she said. “That’s all we could ask for.”

To sign up for the pub crawl or donate to the cause, visit bit.ly/2MBwOvD. To learn more about La Maraña, go to www.lamarana.org or “like” the group on Facebook.