Noel and Peter jumped on the idea and I remember they organized a meeting of community leaders shortly afterwards. They did stellar work setting up the subsequent Days of Action.
Everyone agreed and it was specifically addressed at the first community meeting, that the initiative needed to be Rockaways wide, not just located in the Irish neighborhoods there. It was clear from talking to people down there that many of the hardest hit areas were those where the African American community lived.
Many in Breezy Point made that point to me directly, that bad and all as they were, they had more resources than many of the poorest and hardest hit in other areas that were not Irish. I would say that was a constant refrain.
And so it proved to be.
The two days of action were major successes. Up to 1,000 Irish took part and under the leadership of the Irish Consulate and the Irish immigrant centers as well as locals on the ground like former NYPD officer Brian McCabe, the community spread across the Rockaways, working in every area. Many have returned every weekend since. The Irish Centers in Queens and The Bronx continue to organize relief efforts there which they have done from right after Sandy struck.
I spent a day visiting the sites and the appreciation and the thanks in the African American community was as heartfelt and welcoming as that which was received in Breezy. Everywhere I went I had the impression of people in dire circumstances acting with dignity and resolve and very thankful for the help.
The athletes from Ireland, working on a separate initiative, did a remarkable job working with everyone also. In all the time I spent down there it was an uplifting experience, the Irish government and the Irish American community acting together in common cause. I went so far as to tell Noel Kilkenny and Peter Ryan that it was the Irish community's finest day in America for many a long year.
While acknowledging the good work, The New York Times reporter saw much of it differently. She writes “Even in the days after the storm, volunteer firefighters in the community repeatedly told a visitor as she left to beware of the residents of Far Rockaway, the predominantly black neighborhood at the other end of the peninsula.”
Would the fact that there was a well documented spike in crime after Sandy not have been on their minds when giving her some friendly advice for a woman alone in avoiding such areas? Was it racist to offer some helpful insight?
(These volunteer firefighters would be drawn from the same community which sacrificed so many dead and injured on September 11th 2001 and performed heroically after Sandy.)
It hardly seems fair to let the racist innuendo hang in the air over this story which is a feel good one on so many levels.
But prejudice isn't always about color of the skin, it can be about attitude and a deep mindset which sees communities in cliches and stereotypes whatever the color of the skin.
I certainly think The NY Times has done that on this occasion.