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Free coffee warms spirits of Sandy-affected commuters in Island Park
Before taking the 7:45 train to Penn Station on Friday morning, Susan Baxt, after rubbing her hands together to stay warm, grabbed a free cup of coffee at the Island Park Long Island Rail Road station to sip on her way to work.
Baxt is among the hundreds of commuters to stop by the ticket booth between 6 and 9:30 a.m. since Monday to get a free 12-ounce cup of coffee brewed by an Island Park family.
Despite facing thousands of dollars in damages to their homes in Island Park and Oceanside, John Comuniello and his parents have been using their newly created coffee business, East Coast Roast, to serve nearly 600 cups of coffee to commuters since Monday.
“I had 2 feet of water on the first floor of my house,” said Baxt, 45, of Island Park, who still has only limited electrical power in her home. “There’s no way to make coffee at home right now, so I’m thankful for this. Everything is returning back to normal. It feels like people are forgetting about us, but not them.”
The Comuniellos, who started their company in July to distribute coffee to local businesses, will continue to serve coffee on weekdays until Dec. 14.
“We wanted to fill that void for our community and make coffee an easy convenience like it once was before the hurricane and offer it for free,” said John Comuniello, 22, of Island Park.
The family also partnered with Jack in the Box — a local organization formed after the storm devastated Island Park and Long Beach — that collects toys. In exchange for coffee, the Comuniellos ask for donations of toys to give to families affected by Sandy.
“It is really rewarding that after the first day so many people came back with not one or two gifts, but three or four,” said John Comuniello, who stood near his father, Richard, 51, pouring coffee Friday morning.
The family has collected $237 and nearly 40 unwrapped toys, according to the organization.
His mother, Maryann Comuniello, 52, thought of the idea after returning to work in Manhattan a week after the storm and hearing commuters complain that there were no places nearby that survived the storm to grab a cup of coffee for the morning commute.
Because of water damage, both Demi’s Place and Starbucks on Austin Boulevard are still closed, as well as Island Park Diner on Long Beach Road.
Joseph Pontecorvo, vice president of the Island Park Chamber of Commerce, said no businesses in Island Park are open because its business district was under 6 feet of water.
“We’re hoping that within the next few weeks, businesses will make a comeback,” he said.
Quentin Packard usually quickly drops off his wife at the Island Park train station at 7 a.m., but this week he stayed longer to grab a cup of coffee and talk to other commuters. For at least an hour, he forgot about the water damage in his colonial home.
“These people are taking the time to give us coffee and make us smile,” said Packard, 33, of Long Beach. “I’m so thankful.”
For more information, check out the East Coast Roast Facebook page here.
Photo: Susan Baxt, 45, of Island Park, picks up a free cup of coffee in front of the ticket booth at the Island Park Long Island Rail Road station. An Island Park family, including John Comuniello, 22, right, have supplied commuters with nearly 600 cups of coffee. (Dec. 7, 2012)