Far Rockaway - The Forgotten Town

My Saturday in The Rockaways....

OK….I LOVE the Jersey Shore.

In fact, I spent most of the month of August in Bay Head and Long Branch. I grew up going to Atlantic City. Day trips to Belmar, Spring Lake, Masaquan and Point Pleasant as a teen.

Then, as I accrued some of my own money, Shore houses for the summer while working in places like Lavalette, Ortley Beach, Seaside and Asbury Park.

The photos and radio stories of the devastation of “my beaches” are devastating and heart breaking. I literally saw the home I rented in August floating down the street.

Boats in basements…..basements in boats. People killed…people suffering….people cold, hungry, tired and feeling defeated.

This is what I saw on television and in the newspapers. I was feeling helpless. So many places I knew. So many people I knew. All suffering....

Watching television for the first time seven days after the power came back was when all of this hit home. I was gripped by powerlessness and grief. Not being able to take my eyes off ANY news channel reporting the devastation, I was intrigued by areas that I did not really know well, but HAD visited.

You see, last summer, with my grown daughters both living in lower Manhattan, we all made a point to visit as many New York City  beaches as we could over the the past two summers.

Our first being the beaches of The Rockaways, being very close, mass transit friendly and having a boardwalk for fun and food. We loved it and made several trips the past two summers.

Also in Queens, and most recently, were trips to Jacob Riis Park and Breezy Point, however, we were unable to get onto the beach at the latter place. Imagined memories of more prosperous times entered my imagination at Jacob Riis…now a bit deserted, lonely, but still the sand and ocean of the Hamptons!

Coney Island…Heaven on Earth…when compared to the stogey population at Mitchell’s Beach in East Hampton or even Jones Beach. Brighton Beach was a trip to Russia, with personalities on the beach second only to staying at a hostel in Kiev. Shells abound here, with women sitting in circles continuing to admire a shell which they probably have hundred of at home in their kitchen or living rooms.

Our visit to Great Kills  Park & Beach was a blur, having gotten so very lost finding it and then the rain poured while we finally found a perching ground to set up camp, take a dip and head back to the parking lot we could no longer find in the torrents.

Anyway…..I guess despite my past at The Jersey Shore and The Hamptons……the wretching photos of the children being swept away by the floods, the cries of the residents of Staten Island and Breezy Point as they watched their homes being taken from them so violently by nature….drew me to need to help them.

Feeling like a traitor, I called to find a place to help…..and once I saw their needs and remembered those neighborhoods of friendly and ordinary hard working people my devotion to my more frequented past swept away. People are People. Helping is Helping.

I decided to help out an organization called “Occupy Sandy” I found online and saw a plea on their Facebook Page for a ‘driver’ needed last Saturday to deliver hot food from Perth Amboy to The  Rockaways. Within 3 minutes of my text to a noted number, all was arranged between a lovely woman named Carol and myself for the next day. That was so easy. Now comes the hard part.

Alive Ministries was found due to a FEMA truck blocking any other streets accessible by any kind of truck.

With no tables/utensils/plates/cups, etc. the second “Third” of the food was getting sloppier and cooler, however, the needs of this area were greater and greater.

With over 100 persons standing on line for clothes/blankets (NO ONE HAS HAD HEAT NOR ANY KIND OF ELECTRICITY FOR 3 WEEKS)…..i experienced and relived memories too painful to remember, that being in Haiti with kids/teens/grown-ups begging for any kind of morsel or drink…..I had my sister lock herself in the car and hand delivered the food….no one to help, only the pastor who seemed to be too busy ‘pastoring’ and asking where the plates, etc.

Luckily, I have a very thorough sister who ‘happened’ to bring along
about 500 or more plates/cups/napkins/garbage bags, etc, (“Just in case…had all
these things lying around”) – always prepared!!!!

We needed to leave…was getting dark….then it truly would be Haiti.  I really don’t remember finding or how we got to our third shelter – Mt. Carmel….couldn’t give you the street or number, but with so very many churches and missions open, I would have given them to any place. 

However, a female cop, when screamed at by me, finally directed me past the house with the boat in the front door, I figured we were there. The Pastor thanked us but told us they had to wait to distribute until the next day.

“Put it in the fridge for tomorrow’s offering”, I stupidly said. Put it WHERE???? And, he continued, no one ventures out after it gets dark….too dangerous without any electricity.” Well, I guess they ate it the next day.  

I am returning to St. Gertrude’s next weekend.  With coats and blankets this time.

Nurse Pam Barnes

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