As residents in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut come to terms with one of the most devastating storms in history, members of the Irish community have come out in force to help those in need. Irish Voice Reporter MOLLY MULDOON, speaks to some volunteers about their efforts.
It was the plight of Ruari Daly’s customers that encouraged the Astoria bar owner to spring into action in the days following Hurricane Sandy.
“Anybody would do it,” says Daly, who helped deliver a variety of supplies to residents in the Rockaways and Breezy Point on Sunday afternoon.
Daly, originally from Derry, says many customers of his popular local bar had family in some of the most devastated areas.
What began as a conversation between the Irish immigrant and bartender Mayra Velasco lead to hundreds of the Astoria community coming out to help those most affected by the category 1 super storm.
“On Friday my wife and I went out to Costco and Restaurant Depot and bought some food, diapers, water, things like that,” Daly, who moved to the United States 11 years ago, told the Irish Voice.
Daly put the supplies on the stage of his bar and sent out an appeal to his friends on Facebook to do the same. Word spread online and within a few hours of the Facebook post, a stream of people began bringing donations to the bar just off Broadway.
“Strangers were coming in off the street and asking if there was anything they could do.”
It wasn’t long before the stage was nearly stacked to the ceiling with 60 boxes filled with everything from cleaning supplies and toiletries to canned goods.
With a serious gas shortage, the real mission was trying to find a vehicle to transport all the goods to the Rockaways and Breezy Point.
“I called U-Haul and Zipcar, to see if they could rent us some vans, but there was nothing available,” Daly said.
After seeing Daly’s plea on Facebook, Paul Burnes, owner of the Irish Rover bar in Astoria, came forward and offered the use of his flatbed truck.
In an inspiring video shot in Daly’s pub, volunteers can be seen forming an assembly line as they move the countless supplies onto the truck.
At 7am on Sunday morning, the entourage of one flatbed truck, three pick-ups and one car left Astoria, bound for Breezy Point and the Rockaways.
Despite following the news coverage all week, Daly described the scenes they met as unbelievable.
“There were mounds of sand at least 14 feet high,” he told the Irish Voice.
“All we saw was furniture and personal belongings on the street.”
“They had to throw everything out.”
The group offloaded their supplies at two different locations in Breezy Point and the Rockaways.
“As soon as the truck pulled up it was like a war zone,” Daly recalled.
“People were coming and taking whatever they needed,” Daly said. “They still had smiles on their faces.”
Loaded with hundreds of burgers and hotdogs, Daly started barbecuing at 125th and Beach Blvd.
“It was good for them to get something hot in their bellies.”
With no power in the area, the crew had to leave once darkness began closing in.
“There were no street lights, so once the sun went down, everyone had to leave.” Daly said. “It was like a ghost town.”
On Monday afternoon, Daly says the wooden stage in his bar was once again full with donations.
“I am not sure how we will get it down there,” Daly reflected. “But we will.”
Over in Long Island City, volunteers at the New York Irish Center were undertaking a similar effort.
“A lot of volunteers came from all over,” Paul Finnegan, the Executive Director at the New York Irish Center in LIC, told the Irish Voice.
“We are inundated by people who want to help.”
“One woman drove down here from two hours upstate.”
Not badly affected by the ravages of Sandy, the Center in LIC opened its doors on Wednesday. Donations immediately began to flood in.
“People were dropping off donations throughout the week,” Finnegan said. “By Saturday, we had filled up a truck.”
Working with another donation drop in Woodside, the volunteers from the center delivered supplies to St. Frances De Sales church in Rockaway on Saturday and Sunday.
During one of their drop offs at the Belle Harbor parish, journalist Katie Couric pitched in to help them upload their supplies.
“It was great to see everyone pitching in,” Finnegan said.
“There were national guard soldiers everywhere helping out,” Finnegan added.
Deputy Consul General Peter Ryan told the Irish Voice he was inspired by the work of the Irish community over the past week.
“I don’t think I have ever seen anything that has matched the response by [the Irish] community,” Ryan said.
“Situations like this bring out the best in people,” he told the Irish Voice. “I think it’s a feature of the community here in the States and New York.”
In the aftermath of Sandy, Ryan spent most of the latter end of last week visiting Irish centers throughout New York City.
“People in the community really wanted to help out and assist,” he said.
“They didn’t want to necessarily jump into a car and drive out to the worst affected areas, but they wanted to do something practical to help.
In Queens, the Bronx and Yonkers, Ryan described the efforts of the Irish community as impressive.
“A guy came into the Aisling Irish Center when I was up there and said, ‘I don’t have time to go to Costco and buy supplies, but here is a check’.”
"I was pretty awestruck," Ryan said. "Everyone is doing what they can."
The Aisling Irish Community Center on 990 McLean Avenue Yonkers, NY 10704
(914) 237-5121 are accepting the following donations. Cleaning supplies, baby food/formula/diapers; baby clothes; work gloves and masks; heavy duty trash bags; tools and shovels.