People of the Year 2012

The volunteers and first responders

Neighbors step up to make recovery possible


Each morning for nearly two months, West Fulton Street resident Doug O’Grady has made the two-hour drive to Long Beach from Shelter Island, where he has been staying with his wife and two children since Hurricane Sandy. O’Grady drops his kids off at Lindell School, then heads over to the Waldbaum’s parking lot, where he waits by the Geico trailer and organizes a group of volunteers to help residents gut their homes.

“It’s not Breezy [Point] — we’re at the point now where we’re starting to rebuild,” O’Grady explained to a member of the Stony Brook University football team, who contacted him after seeing O’Grady’s request for volunteers on Facebook. “But there are a few places left.”

Days after the storm, O’Grady — a burly 44-year-old trustee of New York City Carpenters Local Union 45 — put the word out that he was assembling teams to help residents gut their flooded homes, and he could barely keep up with the responses, he said.

“It was the kindness of others that motivated me, to the point where I was almost in tears,” O’Grady said, referring to the help he had with his own house, which was flooded by seven feet of water. “We did about six or seven houses that first day. It caught on …”

Since then, he and hundreds of volunteers — fellow carpenters, Mormon missionaries, members of Hofstra University’s equestrian team — have helped roughly 100 residents. “Every day I’d go home and I’d find out a story [on Facebook] — this person needs help because she has cancer, or they’re elderly,” O’Grady said. “… I was focusing on people who couldn’t do for themselves. But then there were people that I did know who were simply overwhelmed.”

Lafayette Terrace resident Bryan Murphy, a real estate broker at Remax Innovations, who was displaced when his home was damaged, said that when he saw his neighbors gutting their homes on their own, he created a Facebook page, Sandy Help LB, to match volunteers with people who needed help.

“It’s kind of like for the hurricane,” Murphy said. “There would be like 70 to 80 people in my parking lot on a Saturday. The only thing I think people need is to get their houses back, because the major thing is that people are displaced.”

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