In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, many Valley Streamers stepped up to help others without seeking anything in return. The need for volunteers won’t diminish for a while, as tens of thousands of Long Islanders face long-term uncertainty.
Valley Stream’s Auxiliary Police Department is made up entirely of volunteers — 28 of them — and its members put in hundreds of extra hours of unpaid work following the storm. Rich Vela, commanding officer of the unit, said there was a lot to do, from helping residents leave their flood damaged homes, to providing extra security in darkened neighborhoods.
A few streets in the south end of the village suffered serious coastal flooding, including Hungry Harbor Road. Vela became aware of a 91-year-old woman trapped in her home there, but the day after the storm the water was still so high that he couldn’t get to her. He was frustrated. He wanted to help and get her and other neighbors to safety.
“I made a promise when I got down there,” he said. “I told them I was coming back.”
Vela did. He returned at about 9 p.m. on Oct. 30, when the flood waters went down. He found the National Guard, who was there in a Humvee, and together they got the residents out. Vela said he doesn’t know where everyone went, as they were taken to shelters by the National Guard.
Valley Stream’s Auxiliary Police officers are typically asked to work a minimum of six hours per week. In the days after the storm, many of them were working 18-hour shifts, all for no pay. Vela said it was important to maintain safety in the village, especially with so many areas of it without power for several days. Auxiliary Police officers maintained a steady presence to prevent crime.
Malik Abid, a Valley Stream resident for the past 10 years, volunteered at one of the shelters established by the Red Cross. He spent four days, Oct. 29 though Nov. 1, working at Nassau Community College, where thousands of people sought refuge. He served food, and spent time talking to people to try and lift their spirits. He heard some heartbreaking stories. “The essence I got was they were not completely prepared for this level of disaster,” he said.
As Nassau County’s Human Rights commissioner, a volunteer position to help fight discrimination, Abid knows a thing or two about protecting people’s dignity, and doing it for free. While volunteering at the shelter, he saw people who were suffering and who were worried about the future. Yet, he said, he also saw a spirit of hope.
In fact, Abid said, despite the circumstances, the atmosphere at the shelter was very cordial. “They were very peaceful, very calm, very appreciative of the services provided by Red Cross,” he said of the people there.
The Red Cross provided people at the shelter with meals, blankets, water and juice, blankets, pillows and cots. There was a big screen television so people could watch the news to pass the time. Kids played games. Seniors huddled together.
Abid said that many of the more than 100 volunteers were high school and college students. He said helping out was a rewarding experience, and noted how prepared the Red Cross was to handle the disaster — perhaps more than any other agency.
“I believe the Red Cross has done a tremendous job of helping these victims,” he said. “A lot of them might have lost their homes.”