Hundreds Sunday turned out to gather at Shore Road Park in Lindenhurst with two words on their minds: Thank you.
The crowd was there for the closing ceremony for Camp Bulldog, the grassroots superstorm Sandy relief effort that sprang up in the days after the storm and continued to serve Babylon Town residents right until Sunday.
"Residents of Lindenhurst, you have been put to the test but we know you will continue to move forward even after Camp Bulldog closes," camp manager Andrea Curran told the crowd. "Continue to seek knowledge and resources, ask questions, talk to your neighbors and never feel alone."
"Camp Bulldog gave residents a hope for a better tomorrow, a sense of community, and what they did most was give them an assurance that one day their lives would return to normal," said Lindenhurst Village Deputy Mayor Kevin McCaffrey.
Camp Bulldog was one of Long Island's most successful post-Sandy volunteer relief efforts, bringing together businesses, nonprofits, civic groups and government. The camp's success was due in large part to social media, many said, attracting worldwide assistance through the group's Facebook page, Lindenhurst After Hurricane Sandy.
The camp's beginnings were humble. In the days after Sandy, Lindenhurst residents Robin DiGiacomo, 58, and husband Morris Hartman, 61 served soup from a driveway on Wellwood Avenue. The couple solicited donations from restaurants. Clothing and supplies came in by the truckload and Curran, a retired Lindenhurst teacher, began organizing the operation. The site also became known as a place to find a hug and sympathetic ear. It was named "Camp Bulldog" after the Lindenhurst schools mascot.
The camp moved to the parking lot of Shore Road Park where it grew in size and scope of mission. Using a donated FDNY tent as its base, the group served hot food, provided cleaning and other supplies including a food pantry, and offered an information table on help from various agencies.
Curran and her small group of volunteers worked seven days a week until Christmas, then cut down to four days. Hundreds showed up every time they opened their doors.
Sunday, Curran, who got a standing ovation, honored the two dozen regular volunteers and recalled their struggles, from 17-degree days to storms that threatened to blow the tent into the Great South Bay.
"It's bittersweet," Curran said of the camp closing. "It's sad, but you feel really good that you gave them the tools to move on with their lives."
Camp patron Tom Donovan, 73, brought Curran flowers from his garden, saying he wished he had enough for every volunteer. "Everyone here was always so selfless, it's the least I could do," he said.
Lindenhurst school board member Mary Ellen Cunningham, who moved back into her house last week, said she resisted coming to the camp, thinking she didn't need help, but realized she was wrong. Curran and the volunteers "gave me a ray of hope," she said. "It's not just about the loss of stuff," she said. "You didn't know what to do. It took your life into a tailspin."
Cunningham tearfully approached Curran after the ceremony. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart," she said. "You saved me in more ways than you know."