Christel Rice Astin among the Rockaway ruins.

The wonderful Thanksgiving holiday is upon us now, and while it is still very important to take stock of all we have been given in the past year and realize that we have so much to be grateful for, we know that isn’t the case for so many in our area of the Northeast whose lives have been turned upside down.  

And perhaps the media crush of attention on Hurricane Sandy storm-ravaged areas is abating somewhat due to another blowup in the Middle East, the looming fiscal cliff and that dreaded seasonal chestnut Black Friday and the obsessive focus on holiday sales and retail shopping.

But I can’t think of a more inappropriate focus at this time of great suffering and dislocation for so many of our friends and neighbors -- and many we don’t know at all -- than dashing out before the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away or before the cock crows on Friday to forage for things we may not really need.  

What I would like to see is folks continue or bolster the great spirit of volunteerism that has been occurring at so many places up and down the East Coast that stood in Sandy’s way as she barreled her way into our region.   For one year, can’t we replace the idea of running around buying things and wrapping them up under the Christmas tree and give of ourselves to help those who suffered and lost so much?

This coming Saturday is a massive Day of Action organized by Irish community leaders on Saturday, and there will be loads of ways that many of us can get involved to help those who need it most.

The Rockaways remain central in my own mind because of what I have witnessed on a couple of trips there and my own history, and what I read about every day in various media and my Facebook friends accounts. 

I have heard from so many people far away from here who have never set foot on its sandy shore, but who feel the suffering expressed on so many postings and repostings on my wall and look for ways to help. 

Directing them to effective aid operations is one way to help out, and we can be thankful for the Internet allowing us to connect with people in a way that still tugs at their heartstrings.

Like the Jersey Shore, Staten Island, Connecticut, Broad Channel, Brooklyn and other areas that bore the massively destructive force of what was only a level one hurricane, the Rockaways have devastated so many people.  

With the extensive damage to the infrastructure in these areas and many buildings that will not be habitable for awhile, it will take a lot of resources that this sorely-stretched nation is seemingly running out of right now.  

But one thing we have in abundance is our human capital and our spirit of helping our neighbors when they are in need, no matter what their race, creed or color is and that is what this season of
Thanksgiving and Christmas is all about really.

While there are so many to help out everywhere, I think of two young mothers and their families who happen to be traditional Irish musicians who are so in love with the music that they not only play it enthusiastically, but teach it as well which is a special gift. Both were dislocated by Sandy in Rockaway Park just blocks from one another. 

Christel Rice Astin had a condo apartment on the first floor across Beach Channel Drive and the massive boardwalk that paralleled it. It washed out with everything they had when the unrelenting storm surge climbed over the beach with a vengeance. 

Now they live inland in Brooklyn wondering what will become of their once idyllic home on the beach while replenishing what they and their three children once had in their lives.

Annmarie Acosta Williams’s story is even more dramatic as she and her policeman-husband Jimmy had only returned home to Dayton Towers two days before with their prematurely-born baby daughter before fleeing for safety when Sandy came ashore. 

Their high-rise lost power and was flooded in tsunami fashion all around the parking lot and ground floor utility areas, keeping them from returning until power was restored only in recent days.  Three young children, including the newborn and their parents, share a newly acquired two bedroom apartment that wasn’t flooded out, but their storage area was and with it the lost of many musical instruments and other musical treasures amassed by Acosta over the years as one of the area’s most prolific Irish music teachers. 

Amazingly throughout this ordeal, both women were aware of other folks who needed help or supplies more than themselves, and like so many down there have kept their spirits high and their hands busy rather than wallowing in self-pity.

There are hundreds of stories where people need us to help bring back some normalcy to their lives in whatever way we can.  There is more than enough for all of us to do, but time and Mother Nature are not on our side as the colder climes of December will be here soon. 

That wonderful Irish spirit of Meitheal, with neighbor helping neighbor, is a custom that is appropriate for any generation and never more so than now.  You will find plenty of helpful organizations and grass roots folks to direct you to where you can help out and you’ll come away feeling better than you arrive. So don your work clothes and gloves and pitch in as soon as you can and especially on Saturday, November 24 for the Irish Day of Action.