Three tractor-trailers stuffed with food, clothing and supplies collected at Rich Products headquarters arrived this weekend at a food shelter in Long Island, hit hard by Superstorm Sandy.
The large donation – with contributions from the Buffalo-based food industry giant and other local businesses, churches and residents – was immediately put to use for residents contending with the results of the destructive fury unleashed by the hurricane-turned-cyclone.
“Oh my God, it’s a tremendous help,” said Peter Braglia from Hauppage, where he is director of facilities and procurement at Long Island Cares food bank. “The generosity of the people of Buffalo and the surrounding areas was overwhelming. The average trailer is around 40,000 pounds, so it’s 120,000 pounds of food and product to help those that are in dire straits right now.
“This is something we didn’t ask them to do,” Braglia said. “I got the call one night out of the blue, and at that point, you’re at a loss for words.”
The charitable act was one of many in the Buffalo area since the devastating weather wreaked destruction across parts of New York and New Jersey. Among them:
• Wegmans donated $225,000 to the American Red Cross National Disaster Relief fund and Feeding America food bank, sent nine truckloads of food and supplies, is preparing turkey dinners in a box to send to a food bank in New Jersey and as of Friday had collected more than $48,000 donated by customers at registers – the majority from its Buffalo-area, Southern Tier and eastern Pennsylvania stores.
• Ten parishioners from Generation Church in North Tonawanda and First Assembly of God in Niagara Falls arrived in Long Island on Wednesday with a 28-foot box truck full of baby formula, blankets, hygiene products and other supplies donated by Tops, Budwey’s and Walmart. The church members spent a couple of days removing furniture and personal items from houses that had been overrun by floodwaters.
• M&T Bank and First Niagara Bank, both locally based banks, gave $250,000 and $100,000, respectively, to the Red Cross to assist victims of the storm and collected donations from customers.
• A caravan of trailers and vehicles from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office left Friday from Alden for the Town of Hempstead with nonperishable items.
• Several pastors and lay people from the Niagara Frontier District of the United Methodist Church went downstate to help with relief efforts.
• University at Buffalo clinical instructor Joann Sands accompanied seven nursing students to Yaphank, Long Island, to help seniors with medical concerns who didn’t need hospital admittance.
Jay Bonafede, communications coordinator for the Buffalo Red Cross chapter, is one of three staff and close to 40 volunteers who have gone downstate to help.
“I’ve been with the organization for two years, and we’ve been blessed in Buffalo not to have a situation like this, or any kind of disaster,” Bonafede said from a Red Cross building on 49th Street in Manhattan, which is aiding coordination efforts.
“I felt like it was important to have firsthand experience on what we do and be better prepared to do my job in our region should something happen,” he said.
Bonafede, who has yet to visit a hard-pressed area, has been preparing a daily roundup of information for a Red Cross executive, and a one-page newsletter for staff and volunteers.
When Chad Rieselman, pastor of Generation Church, and other volunteers reached Long Beach, “it looked like a war zone.”
“There were piles of debris 12 feet tall in front of a home we worked in, and the trees ended up in the same heap. Every house on the block looked the same way, and it was probably like that for four blocks,” Rieselman said.
“We met one woman who said, ‘We thought we were forgotten about, but then you guys showed up, and you guys gave us hope.’
“We responded that it was all of Western New York that responded to help.”
The pastor said he hopes another crew from the church can return at a later date to help with rebuilding.
Relief efforts continue for the storm that hit in late October, from $436 collected Thursday by the Buffalo Newspaper Guild to a benefit concert featuring local bands held Saturday at the Tralf Music Hall.
Kara Hite, senior director of advancement at the Red Cross in Buffalo, emphasized that every size contribution helps. She recommended donating by calling 1-800-RED CROSS, going online at redcross.org or texting to 90999 to make an automatic $10 donation.
The other way to help, Hite said, was to donate blood by scheduling an appointment at redcrossblood.org.
The call for help so close to Thanksgiving and Christmas has led some to wonder if there won’t be enough money to go around for the upcoming holidays.
But Ann Marie Taft, who works in media relations at the Salvation Army, said that wasn’t a concern.
“We don’t think that funds are going to be diverted. People are generous, and willing to give when they know there is a need,” Taft said.
Local relief efforts in support of the victims of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Louisiana coast three months before Thanksgiving in 2005, didn’t have a noticeable effect on people’s giving that year, she said.
Doris Corley, a supervisor for emergency-based services at Catholic Charities, also doubted helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy would leave local food pantry shelves less stocked.
“We aren’t hearing from people that we can’t do this because we gave elsewhere,” Conley said.