This article is a companion piece to a video published on the site yesterday:
Sandy’s storm surge hit New York and New Jersey on Oct. 29. In the three months since that day, thousands of residents in both states have been struggling to piece together lives that were torn apart by floodwaters and 90 mile-per-hour winds.
Denise Paulette, 39, has three children and three adults living under one roof. They've been unable to get regular meals since the storm hit because so many local vendors have yet to reopen.
"I love the area, I've lived here for eight years," Paullete said. In the 90 days since the storm passed, she has contemplated a lot — whether the city should build a protective sea wall, for instance — but not about leaving.
She’s not alone.
On a cloudy Tuesday morning, a Red Cross distribution truck parks near the police precinct at Beach 94th Street in the Rockaways. Before long, dozens of local residents have lined up.
The volunteers who package and distribute hot meals every day see the same faces over and over.
"We operate like a McDonald's, but we're out of a truck," Red Cross volunteer Steve Shaefer said. "We end up serving about three or four meals a minute."
That pace adds up to anywhere between 450 and 500 meals per visit. Some residents take enough meals to last their family a day, some just take enough to feed themselves for the afternoon.
"We load them up with as many meals as we can," Shaefer added. "They're always very appreciative of what we do."
Shaefer, a former marine, grew up in Troy, Alabama and has spent two months working with the Red Cross in Queens. He returned home only briefly — to help the Red Cross respond to the tornadoes that struck his home state after Christmas.
The assembly-line distribution of the meals has a military efficiency, with Shaefer spooning out Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables in Styrofoam containers. Everything must be stored and served at a specific temperature, which quickly fogs the windows of the response vehicle, obscuring a growing line that stretches from the precinct towards the beach.
The storm forced the American Red Cross to mobilize its entire 322-vehicle relief fleet, which had never happened in the more than 100-year history of the organization.
As of Jan. 15, there were 20 vehicles staging out of the parking lot at Aqueduct in South Ozone Park, New York.
During the initial response, food was cooked in temporary kitchens set up by the Red Cross. When the first stage of disaster relief was over, the kitchens were dismantled and food deliveries now come from local businesses. It’s a method, Red Cross Communications Director Sam Kille said, that allows the organization to pump some much needed cash into local businesses — such as restaurants and caterers — that can’t afford to stay idle for long after a storm.
Just a few hundred yards from the site where the response truck was parked, a cold wind pushed sand up over the road where a boardwalk used to be. Stray planks are buried and unburied by the biting gusts.
Residents have gotten used to living their life out of vehicles — meals from the Red Cross, library books in a temporary RV — but they’ve ruled out going anywhere else to get back on their feet.