Former East Rockaway and current Texas resident Rachel Silverstein was shocked by the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into the Lone Star State on Aug. 25 and lingered for days.
“People are taking boats on what should be a street,” Silverstein said. “The streets have become an inlet to drive a boat on.”
Silverstein, who lives 260 miles north of Houston, in Rockwall, a suburb of Dallas, has been involved in relief efforts with other members of her community. To many South Shore residents, the damage brings back memories of the devastation that Hurricane Sandy wreaked in 2012.
Harvey barreled into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, damaging nearly 200,000 homes and leaving many southeastern Texas residents without food, drinking water, supplies and, in many cases, places to live. It dumped more than 50 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, and took at least 60 lives.
Silverstein, a 1988 graduate of East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School, moved to Atlanta in 2000, and then to Texas in 2014. Though she wasn’t living on Long Island during Sandy, she said she knew many people who lost everything in the storm, including her friends, Mike and Kristen Matthews of Bay Park.
Much as Sandy surprised many Long Islanders, a number of Texans were unprepared for Harvey, Silverstein said. “The flooding [in Houston] is just so bad right now,” she said last week. “They’re not used to it. Whereas with Sandy you had flooding, but it went out pretty fast, in Houston they’re using boats in the streets. Tractor-trailers are under water completely from this flooding. It’s just not going away, and that’s part of the problem.”
To help, Silverstein said, her business, Lice Ladies Dallas, a head-lice removal company, is serving as a drop-off place for donations. Employees are collecting toiletries, blankets, towels, nonperishable food, diapers, baby wipes, bug spray, hand sanitizer and first aid kits. Silverstein said that a friend drove a tractor-trailer to affected areas to drop-off the goods last Saturday. He also gave boat owners items to take to areas that couldn’t be reached.
She added that she had also been in touch with some of her East Rockaway contacts, many of whom had started their own collections.
“It’s amazing how even for such a small town, not only do they care about each other and would come together to help … but they’re willing to go out and help other people across the country,” she said. “I think they know what it’s like because of Sandy, and they want to help. East Rockaway is such an amazing town … They just have a lot of heart and a lot of soul.”
Silverstein said that there would be more than one drop-off event, because the long-term impacts of Harvey will continue after most people end their aid efforts. She added that “Texas Strong” has become a rallying cry.
She encouraged Long Islanders to donate gift cards for pharmacies, convenience stores and home improvement stores by mailing them to Lice Ladies Dallas, 236 Summer Tanager Lane, Heath, Tex., 75032. She requested that donors mark “#harveyrelief” on the envelopes.
Local residents rally for Texas
The Lynbrook and East Rockaway communities also are helping Harvey victims by collecting donations.
Silverstein said she had been in touch with East Rockaway resident Erin Castellano, whom she has known since high school. Castellano has partnered with Lynbrook resident Renee Masters Brown to help victims.
Masters Brown said the images of submerged houses reminded her of her own experiences in Sandy. Her parents stayed at her house for several months after the first floor of their Merrick home was destroyed. “Everyone from this area was either directly or indirectly affected by that,” Brown said of Sandy. “It is familiar to all of us.”
Masters Brown and her daughter, Chloe, used a Facebook group they created last year to encourage people to donate to relief efforts in Texas. The group, Chloe’s Helpers, started as a way to aid wildfire victims in Gatlinburg, Tenn., last December. Castellano helped Chloe and Renee ship boxes of items to a Tennessee church, and, since then, they have helped others in need.
“I have been in constant touch with Erin whenever a natural disaster of this nature hits,” Renee said. “She helped tremendously with our Tennessee collection and has been invaluable with the Texas collections.”
Masters Brown and Castellano began collecting over-the-counter medicines, pet supplies, first aid kits, clothes, water, blankets and more. Castellano said they didn’t collect any clothing, other than socks and underwear, because it takes too long for volunteers to sort out the different sizes.
The women teamed up with local Girl Scout troops and the Rockville Centre Recreation Center to gather items. Masters Brown also collected goods at the Lynbrook Titans football team’s practices. “It really does take a village, or two or three,” she said.
The items were shipped to Texas by the Freeport Lions Club on Labor Day, but Castellano noted that if she continued to receive donations, she would send another truckload of goods.
Area businesses are also helping. Doughology, a Lynbrook doughnut shop, posted on Facebook that it would collect supplies at the store until Sept. 1. The goods were dropped off in Long Beach, and then two tractor-trailers took them to Faith Tabernacle Apostolic Ministries, a church in Houston, arriving last Saturday. Anyone who made a donation at the store received a free Texas-inspired doughnut.
Representatives of Bethany Congregational Church, in East Rockaway, also started a collection. David Carley, co-chairman of the church’s board of trustees, said that the church was figuring out where items would be sent as of press time. He added that church officials are speaking with Next Step Ministries — a nonprofit group that sends teenagers to communities destroyed by natural disasters to help them rebuild — about starting an effort in Texas.
“If you remember Sandy, you know that we will not sit still while our neighbors suffer,” a post on the church’s Facebook reads, “be they in Bay Park or Corpus Christi.”