By Justine Miller.
This was originally published on Facebook on October 29, 2013. We think it bears repeating. While Superstorm Sandy was awesome in its power to wreak havoc, especially on our South Shore, it was the incredible power of our communities that most deeply impressed us. We were among those who offered a hand here and there, alongside incredible neighbors like these and others who came from miles away on service missions of their own. One of those literal missionaries, lovingly dubbed a "Mucking Morman" by the folks working with him, told us he'd been to many disaster zones but had never seen anything like what he witnessed on Long Island -- So many people from so many communities, coming together to clean up the mess and tend to each other. Honestly, we hadn't realized just how incredible these folks were, either. Now, we will never forget. Seven years in, folks like the Friends of Freeport are still taking volunteers. Want to get involved? Email us!
It's been a year now since Hurricane Sandy literally destroyed my hometown of Freeport, NY. The news said it was going to be one of the largest storms ever to hit Long Island, a "perfect storm" if you may. The conditions were set up with a tide coming in, full moon and the winds bearing down. Then, it hit! The tidal surge engulfed Freeport. People were trapped in their homes while 8 and 10 feet of water broke down their doors and pushed in their windows. They helplessly retreated to their upstairs and attic crawl spaces, not knowing if the water was going to keep on rising up and up some more. Homes burned to the ground, Part of our gem of Freeport, the Nautical Mile, burned to the ground. The fire department was unable to respond due to the flooding and the fires had to burn themselves out.
Finally the waters receded. People came down from their refuges in their own homes. They went outside and bore witness to the devastation that Sandy wrought.
It was surreal, like an explosion went off and tossed my village around. There were boats everywhere! Because Freeport had so many marinas and just about everyone that lived on the water had a boat, it was complete chaos. Boats in the middle of roads, on lawns, half in and half out of the water and leaning on power lines. Cars floated down yards and streets. It was like someone took the south end of Freeport and threw it in the air and let everything hit the ground. One of the things that hit me most in the coming days was looking around and seeing the high tide line, in a lot of cases higher then the top of my head.
The electric was off. The National Guard came in to assist because there were looters out there. Can you imagine that? Looters in Freeport! Never in my wildest nightmares would I believe that MY TOWN would have looters come in like cockroaches to take even more from my people. Then the gas shortages happened. People waited on line for hours. The police had to regulate the crowds and fights broke out among my desperate community because they didn't have gas for their cars or their generators. They didn't have food, or kitchens to even make food, no fresh water, nothing.
The day after the storm a few people came together immediately, calling friends, relatives and neighbors to check on them. There was a desperate need for help, a need for just the basic necessities. Forget TV. The cold weather came in. These people needed blankets (if they even were able to return to their homes), They didn't need their luxuries, they needed the basic items for survival.
Well these few people (and I'm so proud to be one of them) began what would eventually become Friends of Freeport; a small group that would eventually evolve into an established, real, amazing group that has helped HUNDREDS of people return to normalcy.
It started small. We made magnets to sell as fundraisers with 100% of the profits going back to our people to get started on the work that was needed to help. We also formed a secret group, you might have heard of them, the Nite Sprites, that wanted to boost morale and give a little brightness to the ravaged community. We put ribbons of every color all over Freeport, lining Atlantic avenue and Woodcleft, on hundreds of houses, in front of schools. A germ of hope and community spirit started back up again.
Let me also commend ALL of the Village of Freeport employees! Tirelessly they worked, trying to protect the village, 24-7 they worked to right what they could in the village. The Freeport Police, the Freeport Fire department, public works, electric department, EVERY single department pulled together and worked so hard to return at least a little visible normalcy to the village.
There was also the Freeport Recreation Center set up to provide food, showers, clothing and information to the people. There were the Freeport Food Angels going around bringing hot meals to people who couldn't get to the Rec, providing more hope.
It was starting, The Hope was starting. It was AMAZING to watch it bloom. The community pulled together! We were going to survive Sandy and pull together as one! People started to believe again. They saw the needs of the community and people started checking on their neighbors, They started to care about those around them, started to want to help each other. Amazing!
So, back to this group, Friends of Freeport. This little group started calling for volunteers. The work that we are still called to do needed to get started. The volunteers came in like gangbusters. Regardless of the situations in their own homes, in the middle of winter, they came like a tide of miracles.
The coordination began. The groups started forming within FOF. The ripouts began. We had the sidewalkers to go door to door, telling people of the help that was out there and collecting lists of people that needed food (thank you Food Angels). We passed out as much information as possible to get help to people, and to inform them of what assistance was out there.
It grew! Bigger and bigger it grew! FOF kept going! Fundraisers, the website, the shirts, the magnets, the donations. All of it kept going, and still grows.
The volunteers... There will be a special FOF section in heaven for our volunteers. To this day, they keep going. As the ripouts slowed down the rebuilding began. We were accomplishing our mission! We were helping people get home. Not to a "house" that was destroyed, but back Home.
I am soooo proud of our group. My heart swells when I think of all that has been done. It truly is amazing and miraculous and it gave me faith in the human spirit again that there are people who do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. I believe in the goodness of people again. I know that I've seen miracles.
In ending, I want to say thank you to all involved, the board.members, the donors, and most of all the volunteers. Without you these miracles wouldn't have happened. And thank you to that Bitch of a storm called Sandy for providing hope and faith again.
My heart swells when I think of all that has been done. It truly is amazing and miraculous and it gave me faith in the human spirit again that there are people who do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. I believe in the goodness of people again. I know that I've seen miracles.