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Long Island

Sandy volunteers bid farewell, LI Disaster Recovery Center to close

Ashley Francis, of Elmont, a disaster case manager

Ashley Francis, of Elmont, a disaster case manager with the Salvation Army, works on painting a star of hope during a picnic to thank volunteers who helped with Sandy recovery. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

With a picnic and cheers, the last of a group of volunteers who helped Long Islanders rebound from the ravages of superstorm Sandy were bid farewell.

At the end of this month, the Long Island Disaster Recovery Center will close.

Thirty-three months after Sandy struck, damaging tens of thousands of homes, officials say the work of volunteers and nonprofit groups in providing housing assistance is done.

About 4,500 volunteers put in more than 160,000 hours of work through the center, from removing debris from flood-damaged homes to distributing donated food.

Volunteers with Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, the largest group to join the effort, recruited volunteers from around the country. But now they're moving on to other disaster sites.

"We realize that there's a lot of work that still needs to be done here," said Mickey Caison, Southern Baptist's recovery coordinator. "We just don't have the mechanism to finance it right now."

One of the volunteers, Jim Capps, 66, a general contractor from Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a veteran of disaster-zone relief efforts. He has been working on Long Island for the past four months, helping evaluate homes still in need of repairs.

"It was just a natural progression when I got called about this to come up here," he said. "I enjoyed doing it."

The Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, which helps coordinate disaster and charitable relief services regionally, held a picnic Friday and gave certificates of appreciation to key volunteers. Food was donated from local restaurants and bakeries.

The event was held at the center's site: Challenger Hall at New York Institute of Technology's Central Islip campus.

"We're celebrating the work nonprofit organizations have done," said Gwen O'Shea, president and CEO of the council. "It's just a chance to reflect on that and get re-energized for the next phase."

"At this juncture, the role volunteers play has been completely filled," she said, noting that home reconstruction is the new focus.

Much of the remaining Sandy recovery work requires state permits and licenses, and can't be completed by volunteers, O'Shea said.

During Sandy in October 2012, floods, wind and falling trees damaged or destroyed 95,500 structures, including 50,000 single-family homes.

The council leads the Long Term Recovery Group, a coalition of service nonprofits formed afterward to provide a centralized source of recovery resources.

The group ran the recovery center and will continue to offer help with Sandy-related project funding, legal help and mental health counseling, O'Shea said.

Those attending the picnic were quick to note that recovery efforts are far from over.

Some home repair projects are tied up in legal knots due to confusion over funding authority, said Marion Conway, NY Community Bank Foundation director.

She is a member of the foundation's Unmet Needs Roundtable, which allocates funding to needy families.

"There are a variety of cases out there, and they're still open," she said.

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