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Community groups help those in need after Sandy

Ed Rowland, foreground, owner of NDA Kitchens &

Ed Rowland, foreground, owner of NDA Kitchens & Construction in Nesconset, with his team of employees, and the homeowner, at a house they gutted for free and helped to renovate at nearly cost. (March 20, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Question: If you don't help people when they need it, who will help you when you need it?


Answer: If you live in the Mastic area, Mastic-Shirley COAD (Community Organization Active in Disaster); Lindy Manpower if you have a Lindenhurst ZIP code; and Friends of Freeport if you reside in that South Shore community.

Since superstorm Sandy struck Oct. 29, Long Island residents, churches and businesses have formed organized community groups to aid neighbors and strangers needing help to rebuild. Since then the teams have gutted more than 300 homes in the three communities, each of which sustained extensive damage.

That kindness has begotten kindness.

Steven and Gail Chandler, of Jericho, own On the Scene Cuisine, a mobile catering business. They said they were so touched by the selflessness of the volunteers that they took gourmet Italian meals to some of their work sites.

"These people are business owners and working people that saw the need for helping their neighbors," said Gail Chandler. "If they can do it, the least we can do is feed the volunteers."

Mastic-Shirley COAD

In Mastic Beach, St. Andrews Episcopal Church was at the center of recent post-storm volunteer activities. Spearheading the repairs was Jon Siebert, 33, of Mastic Beach, whose own home lost roof shingles and power during Sandy, forcing his family to evacuate to neighboring Shirley.

Siebert, who manages apartment complexes in Florida, teamed up with the church to organize volunteers to help people without insurance rebuild their homes. He said coordinators have gutted more than 100 homes for 30 to 50 hours per week while holding down their regular jobs. One of the homes they rebuilt was Carol Castaldo's bungalow three blocks from the beach.

"We did all electrical installation, drywall, roofing, all the plumbing, all the heating, all the appliances, the flooring, everything," Siebert said. "Then we painted it. We also gave her a motorized scooter; hers was flooded out."

Castaldo, 63, a preschool teacher, is eternally grateful.

"Praise the Lord!" she said. "The volunteers realize the evacuees from Sandy have real needs. They used to have a home, and it was moved literally from under them."

In addition to the physical assistance the group offers, there is also the community's Jubilee Recovery Center, which volunteers operate out of St. Andrews Episcopal Church and the Mastic Beach Hebrew Center. There, affected residents can recharge their electronics, get hot meals and pick up clothing.

"We do a lot of things," Siebert said. "We have a food pantry now, and we just got a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation."


Friends of Freeport

Uppermost in volunteers' minds has been the desire to help traumatized residents return to their homes.

In Freeport, Rich and Donna Cantwell's home escaped damage, but they were anxious to know how friends and neighbors fared. With most communications out of service or spotty, Cantwell, a dispatcher for the Village of Hempstead Fire Department, drove around giving coffee to people stranded in their homes.

Through Facebook postings and word-of-mouth, 15- to 30-member work crews were formed. The volunteers -- who either live, work in or otherwise have some connection to Freeport -- knocked on doors offering their labor, free of cost, to gut houses and make them livable.

"It was neighbors helping neighbors," said Cantwell, 54.

Some helpers made it a family affair. Charley Matthews, a Freeport volunteer firefighter whose day job is driving for shipping company DHL, worked on a gutting crew in Freeport alongside his wife, Kim, who works at Verizon and also leads three Girl Scout troops. Their son, Anthony, 21, also helped gut while their daughter, Hayley, 12, removed debris at another damaged property in the village.

"We want to see people return to their homes and stay in the community," Matthews said. "Some of these families have been here for years, and we don't want to see the community go down with abandoned homes."

Even Freeport residents who sustained property damage are lending a hand. "It's the right thing to do, because I saw how badly people were affected by Sandy," said Matt Morris, 15, whose family's home was flooded with 3 feet of water.

Since Sandy struck, Friends of Freeport has helped gut or assisted in the rebuilding of 20 to 25 houses, Cantwell said. The group consists of people who have building, engineering, carpentry, electrical and plumbing experience, he added.

A recent Saturday found him and Matthews with a 30-member work crew gutting the two-story Dutch Colonial of Angelo and Marybeth Termini near the Nautical Mile.

Termini, a waiter, said floodwaters destroyed the living room, den and kitchen on the first floor, leaving behind extensive mold. "It's a wonderful thing that people in the village can get together like this to help their neighbors," he said. "They're our guardian angels. We would never have had enough money to do this."

Cantwell said Friends of Freeport helps families who have exhausted their insurance money or haven't received their settlements. He estimated that repairs to the Terminis' home totaled about $75,000.

"We saved them about $25,000 today," Cantwell said.

Despite the volunteers' efforts, the kindness of strangers has been met with some skepticism because unscrupulous contractors have taken advantage of homeowners, according to some volunteers.

"It's hard to grasp the concept that a group of volunteers you've never seen before are willing to come into your home and do this," said Christine Anglim, a schoolteacher and Friends of Freeport volunteer who has also cooked and delivered meals to affected homeowners, some of whom she said are elderly or very sick.

Some recipients of the group's generosity have become volunteers themselves. Among them is Margaret Meyveci, whose Freeport home was flooded with 7 feet of water. She swept and shoveled debris at the Terminis' home.

"The healing process is people coming in and donating their services, so now every weekend I make it my business to do what I can," she said.

Freeport churches have also been part of the volunteer response. The Rev. Philip Prestamo, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Freeport, created a gutting team.

"We did all aspects of demolition and several aspects of rebuilding," he said.

He got help from 15 sister churches in Connecticut and Massachusetts. "We probably had 200 to 300 people who came at different times," Prestamo said. "We did about 80 homes to this point. It's been exhausting but exhilarating because we're making a big difference in people's lives, but not a step would be possible without God."


Lindy Manpower

In Lindenhurst, Lindy Manpower, a volunteer group coordinated by lifelong resident Amy Castiglia, has had 10 to 20 people gutting homes.

"We tend to focus on single women and the elderly, people who may not have received flood insurance or any financial assistance, or [assistance] insufficient for their needs," said Castiglia, a registered nurse at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in East Patchogue. "More than 30 homes have been gutted so far, and the services have been extended to communities in the town of Babylon."

After gutting a property, Lindy Manpower volunteers come back to install Sheetrock, insulation and other material if needed. The group received a $25,000 grant from the Robin Hood Foundation, which it has used to purchase building supplies to make repairs.

Ed Rowland, owner of NDA Kitchens & Construction in Nesconset, joined the volunteer effort in Lindenhurst when his marketing director, Steven Mueller, 38, a videographer who lives in West Babylon, described the devastation.

"We do kitchen and home remodeling," Mueller reasoned. "We have the manpower, knowledge and skills to go into a home, assess it quickly and determine what we can do to help out."

Rowland rallied staff, family members and friends and gutted about 39 homes, nine the first day they began helping out a week after the storm.

"We felt the best value we could give people was the demolition and the cleanup," Rowland said. "That's what has people overwhelmed, and there were so many people charging them ludicrous amounts of money. The people we volunteered with didn't have to pay anything."

They worked weekends from sunrise to sunset in conditions that included mold and backed-up plumbing. But Mueller said it was worth it.

"I have never before volunteered for anything," he said. "I worked harder than I've ever worked, and at the end of the day, I never felt more energetic and happier. I never knew that helping people would feel so good."


Unexpected benefits

The volunteers' efforts spawned close friendships and some new beginnings.

"A lot of us didn't know each other," Cantwell said. "Now we're finishing each other's sentences."

His Friends of Freeport has been incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization, which makes it eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions.

"Our commitment is to be of service to the residents of Freeport however and wherever we can," Cantwell said.

There are plans to create permanent neighborhood rescue networks poised to provide relief during a crisis.

"I'd like to see a Friends of Merrick," Cantwell added. "We're helping form Friends of Seaford; there could be a Friends of Baldwin. Each community can do the same thing. It can become a network."

Siebert, of Mastic-Shirley COAD, can visualize that.

"Hopefully, there's not another disaster, but if there is, we'll be a little more ready," he said. "We'll continue to take care of Sandy [repairs], but we also want to address long-term needs in Mastic and elsewhere on Long Island. This is a ray of sunshine out of all this."


Helpers from near and far


Friends, neighbors and strangers -- from Long Island, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Michigan -- thank you.


Friends of Freeport

Charley Matthews, Joan Garbo, Christine Anglim, Barry Goodman, Cynthia Carucci, Anthony Iovino, Debbie Becker, Valerie Jenkins, Jennifer Jerome, Jeff Smith, Frank Lawless, Justine Marrone, Francesca Lawless, Kim Matthews, Joe Lawless, Laura Zelenak, Henry Lenahan, Lois Howes, Paul Marcello, Donna Cantwell, Rich Cantwell, Sonya Marcello, Andrew Albrecht, Christine Mayer, Ellen Belkin, Bill Mello, Bill Benson, Margaret Meyveci, Brian Block, Steve McGrath, James Burris, Cory Nussbaum, Jack Courtenay, Bonnie Parker, Peter DeVilbiss, Christina Parkman, Karen Gillespie, Eric Parkman, Thomas DeMaria, Patti Phillips, Fran DiGregorio, John Riso, Dillon Riso, Lindsay Riso, Joseph Duffy, Bill Drews, Donnie Ethier, Eric Robinson, Pete Filippone, Denise Rushton, Paul Fischer, Nancy Schultz, Fred Florenzie, Stan Solmunson, Joe Fresiello, Clifford Taylor, Sharon Gabler, Adam Tavernia


Mastic-Shirley COAD

Charles Voelger, Andrea Mcalonen, Jon Siebert, Ann Siebert, Anthony Siebert, Tara Lamberti, Samantha Bonner, Sabrina Bonner, Phillip Libasci, Kyle Elardo, Moses Goetschius, Evelyn Diaz , Elleyna Albanese, Allison Sarmiento, Ron Gross, Wendy Gross, Bob Vecchio, William Jackson, Beth Wahl, Wendy Falanga, Herb Smalls, Eric Alexander, Tawaun Weber, Charles Roberts, Malerie Malone, Galen Malone, Rodney Hill, Dawn Rich, Steve Rice, Dick Ohlsen, Donna Ohlsen, Leslie Galloway, Eddie Diaz, Kathy Goetschius, Stacy Farmer, Elizabeth Smith, Gabe Lissy, Victoria Lissy, Richard Ohlsen, Donato Sangemino, Cheryl Sangemino


Lindy Manpower

Amy Castiglia, Gerard McGibbon, David Belling, Katie Corrente, Eric Alexander, Elizabeth Alexander, Marvin Shandler, Stan Solonsohn, Robin Pincust, Andrea Gladding, Tim Gladding, Diane Valens, Jean Dumont, Lorraine Pyne, Rosemary Scala, Dominic Iannotti, Jason Karpf, Belina White, Adrian Harris, Tina Veilson, Liz Coffey, Beth Fetini, Liz Berry, Brandon Feifer, Luann Dallojacono, Dawn Marie, Terry Grice, Trudy Fitzsimmons, Cindy Goldrich, John Wall, Peter Florey, Katheryn Laible, Michael Koehler, Henry Lenehan, Pastor Bruce Kaifler and crew from Trinity Lutheran in Rocky Point, Dom Maggiore, Nickolai Maggiore, Erin Harrison, Maureen Harrison, Kane Harrison, Judy Setar, Ed Setar, Don Henninger, Jason Guo, Rob Steimle, Mark Pastore, Matt Wyckoff, John Schultz, Dylan Zimmermann, Anthony Foto, Matt Bendheim, Kevin Ullah, Felix Rodriguez, Mike Moshetto, Matt Rewinski, Antonio Johnson, Baldassare Bertolino, Jason Gillin, Anthony Cole, Matthew Healy, Kara Walker, Tom Stanton, Patty Poulin, Frank Poulin, Frank Poulin Jr., Gary Poulin, Matt Greco, Alex Cipriani, Robert Sparro, Adam Maier, Pete Skeris, Kyle Hammon, Andrew Catron, Drew Carr, Chaplain Barry Carr, Josh Kemp, Jacob Adams, Michael Kirby, Will Sergent, Amber Shiflett, Ron Shiflett, Andrew Giffin, Effie Huber, Mary Sullivan, Anita Thomas, Bill Thomas, Chris Norman, Richard Kohler, Clayton Mowrer, Stanley Quirora, Hank Mann, Frank Carino, Linda Maerki, Craig Maerki, Ian Maerki, Laura Maerki, Keith Maerki, Luke Maerki, Bob Lyons, Kevin McTigue, Tiffany Belling, Marvin Shandler, Andrew Castano, Carolynn Santangelo, Brandon Santangelo, Gina Reis, Jay Robles, Theresa Ohlbaum, Charlene Monetti, Susie Spinato, Isis Manzanilla, Michelle Kirk, Michael Buoncore, Josephine Leon, Joanne Iannacone, Heidi Cappolla, Matt Butler, Kieran McMahon, Doug Quiery, Kristen Mallazzo, Christopher Strohsnitter


First Baptist Church

Pastor Phil Prestamo, Chris Prestamo, Carmella Ehle, Pastor Wesley Zinn, Annmarie Boulay, John Meade, Bob LeBlanc, Jeff Winters, Bob Johnson, John DeConti, Lisa Burton, Dori Willeman, Jon Willeman, Don Willeman, Katie Willeman, Megan Willeman, Justin Rogers, Lubo Altev, Gergana Altev, Ellen Gibbs, Phoebe Seale, Anna Seale, Alex Barsamian, Nicki Barsamian, Emily Ball, Gabby Guarino, Eric Bish, Michaela Bish, Carter Bish, Sydney Bish, Tiana St. James, Rachel Berg, Brooke Falzarano, Trevor Mayes, Leah Mayes, Noah Mayes, Walker Tuttle, Andrew Schuman, Tracy Findley, Emily Foster, John Bishop, Stephanie Nelson, Olivia Williams, Sophia Sylvia, Isabelle (Bella) Yager, Sarah Ball, Sarah Drury, Daniel Tengdin, Dean Tengdin, Doug Tengdin, Anthony Pierre, Rich Rogers, Timothy Barnaby, Joel Eshbaugh, Perry Seale, Jill Seale, Rachel Seale, Jacob Willeman, Jacob Roberts, Ronald Judge, Chinessa Judge, Carly McBride, Sandy Ramos, Jonathon Valerio, Arian Munoz, Liashan Jackson, Ronald Lazo, Danielle Celestin, Esteban Acevedo, Roberto Delgado, Endy Villalobos, Riccardo Pena, Joe Ferguson, Luke Keating, Joel VanderSchel, Kevin Allport, Betsy Huebner, Julia SantaLucia, Emily Mukavitz, Josie Gittleson, Julia Lewandowski, Olivia Banks, Kayli Rosendall, Keegan Cisowski, Allen Wilde, Kelsey Kruzel, Kayla Wlock, Mengmeng Jie, Sara Kileen


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