In a quiet corner of the main gymnasium at Nassau Community College’s athletic center in Garden City, where basketball games and wrestling matches are normally held, Red Cross volunteers have fashioned a small, makeshift daycare center out of room dividers, pinning up newsprint where children can draw pictures in crayon. There are books for reading as well, but little else.
Beside the daycare center is an open kitchen, where hot meals are served and fresh fruit is put out in a stainless-steel bowl for anyone to grab. A dining area with a half-dozen tables, looking much like a sidewalk café, gives evacuees a place to sit and rest, if only for a short time. Beyond the dining area are hundreds of simple cots, arranged in neat rows, full of people.
A Red Cross volunteer strolls by, pushing a baby carriage, making funny faces at an infant inside. Nearby, an older man lies in his cot, reading a historical tome, while a mother and father play with their young child.
This was the scene inside the Red Cross’s Hurricane Sandy shelter at Nassau Community College on Nov. 9. The Red Cross set up the shelter to care for the neediest victims of one of the most damaging storms to roll across Long Island in recent history.
Some 780 people are now housed at the shelter. The youngest evacuee is 3 months old, and the oldest is 100. Most left their homes before or during the storm and have not returned since. It’s questionable when they might go back. Many of their homes flooded. Others burned down. Their desperation is apparent on their tired, forlorn faces.
But, said shelter manager Mike Duarte, the Red Cross is here to help. “The doors are always open. The light is on and the price is right: It’s always free,” said Duarte as he downed a donated McDonald’s cheeseburger during a quick lunch break at a folding table in the shelter’s command center, a windowless, tan-walled classroom down the hall from the racquetball courts.