Burned homes, oil and sewage replaced the smell of flowers, trees and fresh-cut grass that used to permeate the south Massapequa neighborhood where Stephanie Hartman grew up.
Hartman, a mother of six who now lives on the north side of the hamlet, never even lost power during superstorm Sandy. But her neighbors in the low-lying areas, especially south of Merrick Road, were not so lucky.
“To see this place you grew up in now smelling like a battlefield was heart-wrenching,” Hartman, 40, recalled. “It was my home, too.”
Sandy didn’t only tear through homes and bulldoze trees in Massapequa, though. The storm had a way of ripping down the lines and labels that once divided the community into north and south.
“People put away their preconceived notions of what people were, based on what they have and .?.?. came together,” said Dawn Boyle Kostakis, a 10-year Massapequa resident and mother of two.
Two years ago, Kostakis formed a Facebook group called “Massapequa Moms.” The group had mainly been a place for local moms to share information about school events, sports league sign-ups and recommended pediatricians. But once Sandy hit, it became a lifeline for a community reeling from the effects of Sandy.
Not long after the stormwaters receded, Hartman and two other Massapequa moms — Lauren Gerace and Kathleen O’Connor — used the Facebook group to promote a relief effort they started called “Helping Hands.”
Once the mandatory evacuation order was lifted, Kostakis, who lives south of Merrick Road, not far from the bay, returned to assess the damage in her home. It took in more than four feet of water.
“Everyone was walking around like zombies,” she recalled. “It looked like a war zone.”
Word quickly spread via the now 2,400-member Facebook group that Hartman, Gerace, and O’Connor would be collecting and distributing much-needed supplies for residents hardest hit by Sandy, and soon their homes were transformed into bustling drop-off sites.
“I would leave my house and when I returned, there would be more stuff on my front stoop,” Hartman said.
One day, an entire flat bed truck filled with food and supplies collected through the local moms showed up on Kostakis’ block, she said.
“It’s incredible .?.?. a heartwarming thing in the midst of such devastation.”
The women also used the group to stage a rally on Nov. 15 to draw attention to what residents said was a lack of help and information from the Long Island Power Authority and FEMA. The trio organized an “Adopt-a-Family” program, through which more than 15 families’ Christmas wish lists were fulfilled. The program also raised more than $20,000, which was distributed to Massapequa residents impacted by the storm.
Before Sandy, the ladies had been planning a night out at the Riviera, a waterfront catering hall where many Massapequa Moms Facebook friends would meet for the first time.
The event, first set for Nov. 8, was rescheduled as a result of Sandy. Renamed “Rock the Riv After Sandy,” the sold-out party is now set for 7 p.m. Thursday.
With some of the 200 women expected to attend still displaced from their homes, the night will be a chance for them to let down their hair and for everyone to show off the resiliency of Massapequa mothers.
“It’s been a long road and people need to take a break, and enjoy each other’s company,” Hartman says.
Kostakis, who has moved back into her home but still has to battle with insurance adjusters, says, “I will be attending with bells on.”