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Lindenhurst site a hub for Sandy victims

Volunteers load trays full of food on South

Volunteers load trays full of food on South Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst, where hot meals were being served to victims of superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 10, 2012) Credit: Ed Betz

By noon, a line forms at the hot buffet table. Nearby, residents are asked about their needs as volunteers pick through boxes of clothes and cleaning supplies. Workers make a flurry of calls or go online to try and connect those eager to help with those whose needs range from blankets to a pair of hands to rip out soaked Sheetrock.

Welcome to Camp Bulldog.

Named after the Lindenhurst schools' mascot, a Wellwood Avenue site that started out a week ago as little more than a couple of volunteers with some hot food in a driveway has now become a hub for storm-weary residents.

It began the Thursday after Sandy hit, when north Lindenhurst resident Robin DiGiacomo, 58, couldn't sleep, thinking about all of the suffering in her community. The next day she and husband Morris Hartman, 61, went to local restaurants and received donations of a dozen trays of food. They got permission from Surfside 3 Marina on Wellwood Avenue to use its driveway and set up two tables. People came.

That day, Miller Place residents Michael and Debbie Pastore, both 43 and teachers in the Lindenhurst School District, received an email that district faculty were having a food and clothing drive. Grabbing blankets and clothing from the drive, the couple drove around and found Robin and Morris. Soon, the modest driveway became a central location for food, clothing and supplies.

"It's a beautiful way to see the community coming together," Debbie Pastore said.

With the help of organizations such as the Scouts, as well as PTAs and alumni, word has quickly spread beyond Lindenhurst. Now volunteers are trying to meet other needs in the community, such as cleaning out homes. A Facebook page called Lindenhurst After Hurricane Sandy has been set up and other Web resources, such as an adopt-a-home program, are in the works.

"It just went viral," Hartman said.

Each day, from noon to 5 p.m. several dozen trays of food and a dozen pots of soup are served. Countless supplies are given out. On Saturday New York City teachers and North Babylon Scouts were lending a hand. A Verizon truck offered up charging and warming stations. Hundreds of residents showed up.

"It's just been overwhelming," said Andrea Curran, 58, a retired Lindenhurst teacher who has been running the site. "And that's why we can't stop, because these people are coming down and they're counting on us."

The Wellwood Avenue site has become so successful that Robin and Morris have set up satellite locations in Amity Harbor and Copiague.

"Some of these people lost everything and yet they're volunteering to help us -- it's unbelievable," Hartman said. And their stories, he said, are heartbreaking. "We're crying with these people."

Marie Caperna, 71, stood in line for hot food for her family. Caperna, who is living with her daughter and her two grandsons, started to cry as she spoke about how the first floor of their house was ruined. Living upstairs without heat, Caperna said, the family has to wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm.

"I can bring them some hot food," she said. "It gives a little hope, a little strength, a little love."

Robert Cucinotta, 60, walks a half-hour to get to the site from his destroyed first-floor apartment. "I'm not working right now and have had some health issues so this storm could not have happened at a worse time," he said. Volunteers have given him food, jeans and boots. "I'm so thankful this is here."

Kathy Scott, 47, came to get hot food. Not for herself, but for an elderly couple on her block. "We have to take care of our neighbors," Scott said. "Everybody's got to help each other."

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