Kellenberg HS students start Sandy relief

Tionna Atherton, right, and her mother, Charonda Atherton, Tionna Atherton, right, and her mother, Charonda Atherton, set a food drive in Far Rockaway at St. Gertrude Parish. Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

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Charonda Atherton recalled watching her daughter volunteer in Long Beach several weeks ago. For the most part, superstorm Sandy had spared the Athertons, of Uniondale, so working in the battered city left a strong impression on the teen.

"That's it?" Atherton recalled Tionna, 15, saying that day as they finished up helping feed victims of Sandy. "We're just going to leave?"

The experience prompted the duo to begin a campaign for their own relief effort. Atherton, 34, secured promises from businesses in Uniondale, Westbury and East Meadow to donate bagels and coffee, and her daughter's classmates pitched in blankets and sweaters, aiming to bolster recovery efforts in Long Beach and Far Rockaway this weekend.

The Athertons, along with 30 of the teen's classmates from Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, set up shop in Far Rockaway Saturday morning.

Arriving in yellow school buses, the group staffed tables outside St. Gertrude Parish, on Beach 38th Street, itself packed with donations, including apparel and cleaning supplies.

The group from Kellenberg was a welcome presence for some residents of Far Rockaway, who have become accustomed to long lines at volunteer sites post-Sandy.

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It was a scene repeated on many streets in Far Rockaway. Some residents queued up waiting to speak with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials and others to receive much-needed supplies or food from volunteer groups. Police officers stood guard on nearly every street.

Waiting in line "has become the norm, it definitely has, and it's sad," said Keisha White, a Far Rockaway mom who looked for baby clothes and blankets at the students' table.

The routine trips for meals, clothes and other products have been a source of frustration for weary residents. Tempers have flared among the neediest, many of whom are still without power nearly a month after Sandy.

"It's been very challenging, people's attitudes, finding stuff," said Helene Friedman, 50, waiting to secure cleaning supplies at the church. "Even now when the lights are up."

Tionna Atherton said she included Far Rockaway after hearing about the devastation from her aunt, who lived there.

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"I was just really shocked," she recalled feeling the day she worked in Long Beach. "It was sad to see. Nothing happened to my house, but for those people, there pretty much was no house."

On Sunday, the Kellenberg group will move to Long Beach, offering food and supplies in a lot near West Maryland Avenue and West Beech Street.

"It's a blessing, these young children," White said.

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