Like a lot of South Shore LI residents whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy, Tom and Jeannie Garguilo of Bablyon rebounded from their trials through a mixture of personal pluck, grassroots community support, and the stream of government, non government and private voluntary disaster relief organizations which have arrived on the scene.
This week, they took a step that many others in their shoes have taken --devoting their time to helping an organization that helped them.
The Garguilos were on hand at the Red Cross meal preparation center in Deer Park Thursday, helping to cook food, load up trucks and deliver Thanksgiving meals to regional residents on 25 different routes established by the Red Cross.
“The storm came and we sat it out in a relative’s home,“ Tom said. “When we came back to our house, the water was still waist high. We started clearing it out, but every night the Red Cross came around with blankets and food. They really helped us and we really appreciated it. So we decided on Thanksgiving, we wanted to help them out.“
With the same or similar thoughts in mind, individual volunteers came from neighboring towns to Deer Park Thursday -- or with the Southern Baptist Convention, which had four teams of volunteers paired with the Red Cross at the Deer Park food site from Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas and New York.
"I’m amazed by the response of Suffolk County residents," said County Executive Steve Bellone, who was on hand with Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Shaffer to help with the effort. “Everywhere we go we see people helping themselves, helping their neighbors. Then there’s this -- people coming from all over the country, leaving their own families at home during the Thanksgiving season to help out.”
On the strength of that voluntarism, the Red Cross has served nearly 7 million meals and given out over four million relief items in the northeast to people impacted by Sandy, according to Anita Foster, a representative of the Red Cross.
“We actually scaled back operations for Thanksgiving,” Foster said. “We prepared about 6,000 meals at the center, put them in trucks and delivered them."
The Red Cross responds to 70,000 disasters a year, she noted -- from widespread effects of destructive weather patterns to individual and family tragedies. “We‘re there whether it‘s one family standing on a curb, or one million,” she said. “We show up where the rubber meets the road.”
Every situation, she said, is different -- and the impact of Sandy on the region is no exception. “I’ve been doing this for sixteen years,“ said Foster. “And this time is unique -- because we're in such a populous area which is so reliant on the infrastructure. A hurricane hits Texas, and it might go over a major city, but it could pass over the King Ranch, where no one is effected.“
Then there’s the nature of the population, she added. New Yorkers, she said, are an independent lot, and proud, but appreciative of the help if it is presented the right way. “I had an 88 year old woman yesterday who started crying when we came to help,” said Foster. “She was upset, she’d never asked for anything before. I asked her, did you contribute to victims of Katrina, and she said yes.”
“Our experience is that it’s people like her, people in the New York area, who are the most generous, in America,“ said Foster. “This is our gift to people like them. This is America pouring our its heart in support of people like her.”
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