I’ve often heard Staten Islanders say we live in the “Forgotten Borough,” and to some extent, it’s true. In the first couple of days after Sandy left a path of destruction all up and down the Northeast coast, most of what was shown on the news was about the ravaged Jersey Shore and the flooded NYC Subways. It wasn’t until a few days later that the world heard about what happened in Staten Island, where unfortunately, it was discovered was the place in which the most people died as a result of the storm. And if not for the incredibly brave first responders who made over 1,300 water rescues that night (1,300!), the number of deceased would have been even harder to bear.
(If you haven’t read my essay in The Huffington Post, I hope you’ll take a look.)
Because of the delayed reaction (and admittedly, also because of the sheer logistics of deploying government and charitable help to get here from out of state) Staten Islanders didn’t see any Red Cross trucks or FEMA representatives in those first few dark, terrible days. What they relied on was the overwhelming generosity of their fellow Staten Islanders.
Neighbors shared generator plugs, and helped each other pump out water and begin the cleanup process. They took displaced friends into their homes, and brought meals to the elderly. Around the Island, makeshift donation centers immediately started popping up at local bowling alleys, children’s party places, fitness clubs, and even out of people’s garages. Would-be marathoners turned their canceled runs into an opportunity to “run” supplies like batteries, flashlights, and nonperishable food to the most effected neighborhoods. On Halloween, just a couple of days after Sandy, trick-or-treaters went around not asking for candy, but handing out sandwiches. Local businesses stepped up and began offering their goods and services free of charge. The Staten Island Hilton filled its rooms, lobbies, and conference room areas with evacuees, and all of the supplies needed to keep them comfortable, clothed, and well fed.
Facebook and Twitter turned out to be the best way to share information so that volunteers knew where to distribute the massive amounts of donations that came pouring in. I tried to compile what I saw in my feeds here on the blog. Slowly but surely, efforts became more organized, and volunteers were ready and waiting to take on their next assignment. And through it all, it was our local politicians who stood on the front lines, day in and day out, to help bring some attention to what Staten Islanders were going through, and ultimately, make sure the forgotten borough received the help it so badly needed. So James Oddo, Nicole Malliotakis, Vinny Ignizio, Andrew Lanza, and Michael Grimm — I applaud you, and I thank you!
Eventually, FEMA and the Red Cross did show up. As did Jon Stewart, Julianne Moore, and a handful of other celebrities. As the story unfolded on the evening news, the help started pouring in via private and corporate donations. And as I sit here writing this, it’s the eve of President Obama’s visit to Staten Island, I’m betting the first one he’s ever made. To think that the President will be walking around Miller Field tomorrow, where my kid plays baseball!
While we of course appreciate all of this very helpful and much needed assistance and acknowledgement, what Staten Islanders will remember the most about this tragedy is how we all pulled together for each other. From day one and still to this day, when the rest of the world forgot about us, Staten Islanders took care of their own. Through our strength, faith, and fortitude, we sure showed the world how unforgettable we truly are!