From the moment Superstorm Sandy subsided, Legion posts and Legionnaires on the eastern seaboard have been engaged in relief efforts, providing the "boots-on-the-ground" assistance that epitomizes the organization’s dedication to community service.
In the aftermath of the storm that left thousands of homes and businesses without power and shoreline cities underwater, Legion members and post have been busy, raising money and goods for displaced families, opening posts as storm shelters, coordinating disaster relief with authorities, and providing the "high-touch" aid that is so important in dire situations.
"Legionnaires from all over the country have been calling me, wanting to help," said Jim Casey, past department commander of New York. "That’s been the great thing. The first thing I do when I go to see people down there is tell them that everyone is pulling for us – people from Buffalo, upstate, all over."
Legionnaires have had an active presence in some of the areas the storm hit the hardest like Long Island, Queens County, N.Y., and the New Jersey shore line. And for good reason – there’s no shortage of people who need help, as winter weather rolls in and homes are being marked uninhabitable.
"The problem is, all the people who are members and everything of these posts, they are trying to dig their own basements out of water," Casey said. "Sometimes I have to convince them to stay home and fix their own problems before coming out and trying to help."
In Babylon Village, N.Y., Post 94 provided hot meals, blankets, coats, towels, cleaning supplies, toilet paper and other items of necessity during the storm’s landfall and throughout the clean-up efforts. Post 94 is situated on the south shore of Long Island– the literal front line of Superstorm Sandy. Its location made it an ideal "warming center" for locals to come and eat a meal – bagels in the morning and hot soup and sandwiches in the afternoon – and pick up any necessities that were needed. Legionnaires at the post coordinated donation drives to collect items for storm victims and helped clear debris from homes. Volunteers from the post even delivered canned goods to victims at the shore front and barbecued outside the post building.
"These are our neighbors, and we’re a very community-based organization," Post 94 Commander Armen Enkababian said. "We believe it’s important as a community to take care of your own."
Highstown American Legion Post 148 in East Windsor, N.J., served as an emergency shelter for families, children and elderly who were displaced or without power. The post served free dinners all week for locals in the city–located about 30 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Local businesses like ShopRite, Walmart, Dunkin’ Donuts and TGI Fridays all donated items and food to the post so it could keep its doors open to the community throughout this past weekend. Legionnaires from the post delivered the remaining canned food items and supplies to the ravaged Jersey Shore earlier this week.
In the moments after the storm, Legionnaires in and around Queens County quickly assembled and formed a communication tree. They organized widespread distribution of MREs and water to residents of the borough that boar the brunt of the storm. Broad Channel Post 1404– located in the decimated Broad Channel portion of Queens – managed to regain electricity and become a major distributor for goods and supplies in the area.
"When we’d bring in supplies (to the affected areas), I’d tell the people there, ‘Don’t worry. No one’s forgotten about you,’" Queens County Commander David Valentin said. "When I got back to the people bringing in the supplies, I’d tell them, ‘They really appreciate what you’re doing.’ It sort of reinvigorated both sides."
In Islip, N.Y., Post 411 and Post 1738 provided essential support to the town located on Long Island’s south shore. Post 411 worked with local emergency operations teams to keep its doors open as a heated community center for residents– many of whom were without power. As weather conditions took a wintery turn, warm places to sleep became a necessity. In the weeks following Sandy, Post 1738 hosted a food and clothing drive for Sandy victims coordinated by Helping Hands. The drive collected fleeces, coats and sweaters, along with canned foods and turkey vouchers to ensure a Thanksgiving dinner for those who had to clean out their refrigerators during the power outages.
Outside of the tri-state area, Post 296 in Queenstown, Md., and the post’s Auxiliary unit helped a military family whose house burned down in a fire caused by Sandy. The post donated $2,000 and the Auxiliary unit gave $1,000 to help the family after losing their home and most of their belongings inside. The circumstances of the blaze couldn’t have been more unfortunate, as the family didn’t have renter’s insurance and the husband was stationed out of state. "We just wanted to do whatever we could to get their feet back on the ground," said Sam Reeder, Post 296’s commander.
In Endicott, N.Y., Post 82 has organized an initiative to raise money and help their neighbors in down-state New York, which was the main impact point for Sandy. "Project Hope" asks for donations from veterans, veterans organizations and anyone wanting to help those affected by the storm. All donations will be given to the state Red Cross to help fund the organization’s shelters and ongoing rescue operations.
American Legion Amateur Radio Club members assisted relief efforts in the tri-state area by developing emergency plans and checklists and cooperating with local emergency authorities. These Legion "ham radio" operators served a crucial purpose as they often do in times of disasters. When communication lines fail, they become ideal conduits for assisting authorities in coordinating relief efforts.
Post 419 in Amagansett, N.Y., gave residents of nearby East Hampton a warm place to sleep as power remained out for much of the Long Island town in the weekend following the storm. ()
Casey has surveyed much of the destruction that Sandy left in and around New York City, particularly in the Broad Channel area. "To see people eating baked beans out of can there, some people are comparing it to Dresden," he said.
Because of the coming winter season, he says it now becomes important that people have warm places to stay and food to eat.
"It’s not going to end soon," he said. "If it was summer, it wouldn’t be as bad. But this is winter. We’re trying to set up some long-term plans now for Thanksgiving and winter and the holidays."