Thursday November 8, 2012

The helping hands of Berkshire County are reaching out across neighboring state borders to support relief efforts for the survivors of Hurricane Sandy.

Amy Lederer is a fourth-grade teacher at the Leo F. Giblyn kindergarten through Grade 4 public school in Freeport, N.Y., located on the south shore above the barrier islands of the New Jersey.

"The town I teach in, is located just across the bay where it’s all canals. The tides were unbelievable. About a third of the town was flooded Š It’s just a mess," Lederer told The Eagle on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s been about a week and a half since the storm hit. Her students have still not been back to school and Wednesday’s weather took a turn, bringing sleet and snow to the area, she said.

But she said she’s found hope through the efforts of a Lenox woman named Maggie Welch. Welch has a trailer currently parked near Main Street to be filled with supplies for Freeport families.

"I’ve never her met her. She’s a friend of a friend but an amazing person," Lederer said.

In a Facebook post to donors, the Freeport teacher wrote, "I am so utterly blown away by the generosity and giving nature of all of you."

Welch is one of several individuals and small groups of Berkshire County residents leading grassroots efforts to help those in need.


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Forgotten metropolis

Lindsay Trendowski-Nataro is a Middletown, N.J. native who now lives in Pittsfield and works as a registered nurse at Berkshire Medical Center.

"I waited a couple of days after the storm happened, waiting to hear about things, places choreographing donations and outreach but I found there weren’t any sites," Trendowski-Nataro said, noting that she contacted Pittsfield City Hall and other municipal departments.

"I’m not sure why, but in some ways, I feel like, unlike with [Hurricane] Katrina, New Jersey and New York have been forgotten," she said.

She’s since taken matters into her own hands by setting up collection boxes with other coordinators at BMC, Laurel Lake assisted living in Lee, Craneville Place in Dalton and Enterprise car rental in Pittsfield, where her husband Jamie Nataro works. Like most other local relief organizers, Trendowski-Nataro is getting the word out via social media outlets like Facebook.

She said she is using her own resources to drive donations down to New Jersey on Friday, and will volunteer there through the weekend.

Beth Maturevich, of the local band Whiskey City, and Dona Frank-Federico, of the band The Spurs USA, have partnered to collect and transport supplies for both people and pets in Red Hook, N.Y.

"U-Haul donated a truck and Dona’s picking up stuff Friday at my house," Maturevich said.

Among many individual donations, she said she received 20 55-pound boxes of food from Berkshire Com munity College’s Trick-or-Treat for Canned Goods project.

"They’re filling my house. It’s a really beautiful thing," she said.

Maturevich also plans on hos ting a holiday gift drive in Dec ember to help Hurricane Sandy victims be able to celebrate.

Other students are also getting in on the cause. Hoosac Valley Middle and High School in Cheshire and other locations in the school’s district and towns have collection boxes to benefit victims in Staten Island, N.Y.

Teens in the culinary apprenticeship program of Railroad Street Youth Project, in Great Barrington, partnered with Taft Farms and Chef Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge to make food for devastated areas.

Taft Farms donated 2,000 pounds of pumpkins which the youths processed into 140 gallons of vegan pumpkin soup and 60 loaves of nut-free pumpkin bread so people with food allergies could be fed.

Alberg said the food was shipped out on Wednesday with Jan and Michael Seward of Great Barrington, who have been actively contributing to the relief effort in Island Park and Long Beach, N.Y.

"To date, the residents have no water, heat, power, or phone service. A large portion of the homes are uninhabitable. Residents have limited access to gasoline, so many are stranded. Also, many vehicles have been lost to the storm," Jan Seward explained in an e-mail to Alberg.

Food service truck

The chef plans on joining the Sewards on Monday to serve donated foods like rice and beans and soup through a 30-foot food truck driving to affected neighborhoods.

Trucker Wayne Piaggi, of Adams, is in New Jersey on nearly a daily basis on hauling routes with Costco and Swift Transportation.

He said the most important thing people can do to help is to support Hurricane Sandy survivors through a well-organized and sustained manner.

"It’s like World War III down there. People are walking around aimlessly. There are a lot of people living in cars," said Piaggi, who is partnering to truck supplies to The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties based in Neptune, N.J.

"[The lack of clothes] isn’t the problem. People aren’t eating," Piaggi said.

He also said individuals wishing to help should coordinate with a group in an affected area to deliver donations.

"Drop off zones are turning people around. It’s very dangerous and there’s a lot of looting," said Piaggi.

He’s planning to collect items at the Adams Forest Wardens building on Summer Street in Adams this weekend and next weekend, Saturdays and Sundays, from 9 a.m. to noon, and will deliver a 53-foot-long tractor trailer’s worth of goods to The FoodBank on Nov. 19.

"It seems like these are all small efforts, but what we’re doing is huge," Piaggi said.

National efforts

Local affiliates of some national organizations are also accepting donations for the relief effort.

Catholic Charities USA, and the Jewish Federations of North America have both established Hurricane Sandy Relief Funds, and contributions can be made to those national organizations through their local chapters.

The Diocese of Springfield is accepting donations to assist families and individuals with shelter, food and other immediate and long-term needs. The funding that the Diocese receives is channeled directly to Catholic Charities USA.

"We simply are the receiving agency," said Diocese spokes man Mark Dupont. "One hundred percent of the money we collect is sent immediately to Catholic Charities USA. It’s the fastest route to get the money to where it’s needed.

Donors can either send checks to Catholic Charities through the Diocese of Springfield, or donate directly online at www.catholiccharitiesusa.org. Pastors will decide how funding will be collected at individual parishes throughout the diocese.

"Every parish has a different way of doing it," Dupont said. "We’ve left it to our pastors to determine the best way."

A link to the Jewish Federations of North Amer ica’s relief fund can be found on the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires website, jewishberkshires.org. On Nov. 6, JFNA authorized $500,000 for the immediate humanitarian needs of Hurricane Sandy in the New York metropolitan area and in New Jersey.

"If people want to donate locally they can go to our website, or send checks directly to the federation here as long as it’s noted for hurricane relief," said Jewish Federation of the Berkshires’ Executive Director Arlene Schiff.

"From my perspective we’ve found that by partnering with the national organization the funds reach people much quicker," she said.

The Salvation Army has already received nearly $700,000 in national online donations to support relief efforts. Major Donna Hansen of the Salvation Army in North Adams said donations to local chapters will be sent directly to the organization’s national relief fund. To contact the Salvation Army’s national relief fund directly, visit salvationarmyusa.org, or call (800) SAL-ARMY.

The U.S. Treasury Depart ment and the Internal Revenue Service have expedited the review and approval process for organizations seeking tax-exempt status to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

But the IRS is encouraging donors to use existing organizations that are currently working on immediate aid efforts.

"You want to make sure you’re giving to a reputable charity," said IRS New England spokeswoman Peggy Riley.

Lists of organizations that are already providing support to hurricane victims can be found at the websites of both the Federal Emergency Man agement Agency, and the U.S. Government’s main Web portal at firstgov.com.