Oceanside and Island Park step up to help flood victims


As the storm waters in Texas recede and the true extent of loss from Hurricane Harvey is assessed, people elsewhere are gearing up to assist in any way they can. In Oceanside and Island Park, two communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy, residents know firsthand the best way to be of service, and aid efforts are already under way.

“We know where and when it needs to be distributed,” said Ellen Cutler-Igoe, president of the Alliance of Citizens To Improve Oceanside New York, or ACTION, on the best way to get aid to those affected by flooding.

The non-profit civic group is collecting tax-deductible monetary donations that she said would be distributed to Texas families at the appropriate time. “We’re going to wait for when people know what they need to get,” Cutler-Igoe said, adding that she knows personally that the need for financial assistance becomes most acute when storm victims have to gut their homes. “That’s when everyone’s applying for grants and flood insurance claims,” she said. “And we know that money does not always come in a timely fashion.”

In addition, the Oceanside Kiwanis is spearheading a collection drive, with drop-off locations at the Oceanside Fire Department’s Foxhurst Road headquarters and the Oceanside Library, on Davison Avenue. Kiwanis President Seth Blau requested that residents avoid donating clothes or shoes, but said his organization would accept first-aid items, non-perishable food, paper goods, flashlights, batteries, blankets, pet food, garbage bags, toiletries, gift cards and cleaning, baby and school supplies.

“Within Oceanside, you have maybe 30,000 to 35,000 people, half of which went through a similar situation,” Blau said. “Being able to relate to that, there are people who want to help.” He acknowledged that until his organization stepped in, there were no relief efforts in Oceanside yet, but “we’re fortunate that, through Kiwanis, we’re able to help fill that void.”

Blau said that the collection boxes would be open for roughly four weeks, and that his group would work with Kiwanis International’s New York district disaster relief program to have the items shipped south.

The Oceanside School District is also preparing for its own effort, in conjunction with Oceanside Community Service. Although school officials said at the Aug. 30 Board of Education meeting that they would hold off on any official announcement until district students were back in school, they confirmed that talks were being held on what form their relief effort would take.

“What we’re going to try to do is a combination of raising money with the school system so it funnels through OCS … and collecting goods,” said Trustee Bob Transom, a former board president. He said that OCS is looking into partnering with other organizations to have a trailer quickly outfitted with the required supplies, but added that the talks were still preliminary. “At this stage of the game, you see things on TV and you want to react to it,” Transom said. “But in reality, you’re not going to get something down to them in the next seven to 10 days. Things will develop.”

He recommended that residents begin collecting supplies and anticipate dropping them off at the district’s elementary, middle and high schools. He also advised those seeking to make monetary donations to make checks out to OCS Incorporated, which is a non-profit group. “From experience, we’ve found that when we raise money, we partner with an organization that has boots on the ground in the area,” Transom said. “Last time, with Katrina, we funneled money to a parish food pantry in Louisiana.”

In Island Park, the Fire Department held a collection drive on Sunday. Items were dropped off at its training facility, at Waterford Road and Nassau Lane, to be stored until transportation could be arranged.

“When we were in our time of need, everyone came forward and looked out for us,” former Chief Anthony D’Esposito said. “This is our opportunity to pay it forward.” He added that the firefighters hoped to have the collected items on the road within a week.

Going forward, D’Esposito said, his department would take it “one step at a time.” “Learning from Sandy, it becomes very difficult to look too far ahead,” he said. “Get the necessities there first, and then work on any additional help we can send their way.”

Additionally, Island Park’s Sacred Heart Church collected monetary donations during its weekend masses, and across the street on Long Beach Road, Fluffy Angel Pet Grooming & Spa is gathering pet supplies.

“I experienced Sandy firsthand,” Fluffy owner Carlos Zapelli said. “I lived through the flood waters.”

“Just seeing the videos of all the animals on TV stranded, left behind or rescued, it breaks my heart,” he added. “It brings flashbacks to when everyone came to help out here.”

Zapelli requested that residents drop off dog and cat food, leashes and collars, over-the-counter flea and tick medicine, or pet store gift cards at his shop. “Whatever anyone thinks would be useful,” he said, vowing to continue to collect and deliver the items well into the future. “They’re going need help now and later,” he said of the flood victims and their pets.

Carlos’s 10-year-old son Juan is also assisting with the relief effort. Outside their family shop hangs a sign that Juan made, imploring residents to help pets in Texas any way they can, and he is planning to send homemade sympathy cards as well. “Being in that weather is hard,” Juan said. “All of the people are struggling to survive.”

Few know the toll such disasters take better than the first responders who have worked through the devastation caused by flooding. “Sandy was the first of anything like that anyone here had ever experienced,” Oceanside Fire Department Chief Kevin Klein said. “I’ve spent my whole life in Oceanside, and my father has 52 years in the department, and he had never seen anything like Sandy.

“The response we got from all over the state and country was amazing, so obviously we feel obligated to give back,” Klein continued. “It’s definitely our turn, and we’re very excited to be part of it, and I know the community will turn out big to be part of it too.”

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” Island Park Fire Department Chief James Miotto said. “Trying to give back, because I know when we had Sandy, they did the same thing. People down South put up a big effort to get help up to us. We know what they’re feeling right now. To be able to help them when they helped us, it means a lot to us, and I’m sure it’s going to mean a lot to them.”