“It’s absolutely desperate.”
So says Danny Moloney, founder and president of Liffey Van Lines in New York, about the dire state of Breezy Point and the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy mauled the two Queens waterfront communities with large Irish American populations.
Since last weekend, Co. Clare native Moloney and his staff have worked with the Aisling Irish Center in Yonkers and a number of other charitable organizations to provide transport for donated goods.
Liffey trucks filled with volunteers, water bottles, clothing, blankets and cleaning supplies have made the trek to Queens every day, and will continue to do so in the days ahead.
“We’re going to be sending at least two trucks every day to wherever we are needed,” said Mike Neville of Liffey.
“I drove one of the trucks myself the other day. I honestly couldn’t believe what I saw. It’s like a war zone. People are in such need.”
On Tuesday, New York Consul General Noel Kilkenny headed to the Rockaways in a Liffey truck packed with donations gathered at the Aisling Irish Center, Empire City Casino, St. Barnabas and the Woodlawn Boys and Girls Club. Orla Kelleher, the Aisling’s executive director, has been coordinating relief efforts for the center, and the outpouring of support from the community, she says, has been overwhelming.
“We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without so many volunteers, and so many people wanting to help,” she says.
Kelleher spent much of Tuesday in the Rockaways and was shocked by what she saw.
“There were boats in the middle of the road, blocks of apartments completely dark, and so many people waiting in line for food. There’s no other way that they can get food other than people bringing it in because everywhere around is closed,” she said.
“People are describing it as a war zone, and that’s exactly what it looks like. It almost feels as if you’re in a different country.”
The Aisling volunteers, 15 in all, unloaded the Liffey trucks and distributed the supplies at various drop-off points. The Irish government agency Food Ireland donated a large amount of products that were also handed out to grateful residents.
Kelleher says that the Aisling Irish Center’s relief efforts will be ongoing for a long time, given the scope of the atrocity.
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“This isn’t going away any time soon,” she says. “We’re lucky because so many people want to do whatever they can. One of our local car companies, Break to the Border, has offered free transport to any of our volunteers who want to go to the affected areas.”
“What we’re seeing,” Kelleher adds, “is a city divided by nature, but united by human nature.”
Rory Dolan, proprietor of Rory Dolan’s on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, headed to the Rockaways on Tuesday morning with several of his staff members who cooked trays of food. He was joined by Declan Rainsford, his partner in two restaurants in White Plains.
“We’re going to give the people soup and plenty of hot food that will keep them warm,” Dolan said.
“We know so many people in the Rockaways whose lives were destroyed by the storm. It’s important that we all stick together and help each other out.”
One of the deejays who spins regularly at Rory Dolan’s lost his family home in the Rockaways. “If you’re Irish you’ll know of someone who was hit hard,” says Dolan.
“And what’s really nice is that everyone wants to help out and give back. This tragedy is bringing out the best in people.”
Devastated Staten Island has also been on the radar screen of Irish volunteers. On Tuesday Liffey delivered two large trucks filled with an array of necessities to the borough. Co. Limerick native Neville says the wreckage is so bad in some parts that the trucks had difficulty reaching their destinations.
“Staten Island is really suffering,” he says. “It’s hard to take in what you’re seeing with your own eyes.”
Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx was aware of the Liffey trucks shipping supplies to the locations most in need, and on Tuesday contacted the moving and storage company to see if it would provide transport for medical supplies.
“So we’ll be doing that too, happily,” says Neville.
The Emerald Isle Immigration Center’s offices in Woodlawn and Woodside lost power in the storm’s aftermath, but Brian O’Dwyer, the center’s chairman, says that staffers and volunteers were still out in force to offer help.
“In the Bronx we’ve been providing meals on wheels to those living in large co-ops,” he said. “We had 50 volunteers going door to door to make sure that people were okay and being taken care of. We’ve also been doing lots of carpooling to grocery stores.”
A major issue, O’Dwyer says, is that many of the Emerald Isle’s clients prior to the storm are enduring greater stress now.
“Some of the people we look after are in worse shape,” he added. “What we’re trying to do is just get the word out that we are here for anyone who needs help with anything – contacting FEMA, contacting social workers or anything else. All anybody has to do is give us a call and we’re there.”