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Surviving Sandy - Long Island & Queens, N.Y.

Surviving Sandy - Long Island & Queens, N.Y.
Brian Wilton '97, who helped rescue hundreds of homeowners while working on the Belmar, N.J. water rescue team, captured this image in the days following Hurricane Sandy in Lake Como, N.J. Tom Grech ’84 (inset), president of the University’s Alumni Society, kept busy following Sandy as well, setting up a nonprofit group to collects funds for New York families impacted by the storm.

Raising Donations, Raising Hope

Watching many Long Island and Queens, N.Y., neighborhoods – some right in his backyard – succumb to Sandy, Tom Grech ’84, president of the University’s Alumni Society, couldn’t sit on his hands. “We battened down the hatches like everybody else in our area,” he says. “We hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.” 

The worst came and areas like Long Beach, Island Park and Howard Beach, just a few miles away, were decimated. Months later, approximately 40 percent of the population has not returned, many because there is nothing to come back to. After the storm surge, these families had nowhere to turn, with financial assistance from government agencies days, maybe months, away, Grech explains.

As a result, he – along with two fellow Malverne, N.Y., residents – formed “RepairRestoreRenew: The South Shore of Long Island,” a group that collects funds and provides direct financial assistance to families impacted by Sandy. The goal was to dispense money to people as quickly as possible. Through email blasts and Facebook posts, the group pulled together $2,000 within 24 hours, with donations coming from as far as Florida and even Japan. In the next three months, the group collected more than $12,000, assisting more than 20 families. The group’s Facebook page alone yielded more than 1,100 members.

Without the time to set up an official 501(c)3 organization, RepairRestoreRenew quickly moved forward on trust – and a PayPal account. As soon as money or checks arrived, Grech and his partners distributed the funds as soon as possible. “The goal was to figure out who needed it most, especially first responders like police officers, firemen, teachers and their families who were affected,” he says. Grech vividly recalls driving to Broad Channel, Queens, at the request of a Scranton alum and friend to deliver $500 to a woman who was living in her car after losing everything. The reaction? It was emotional for both parties.

“The recipients were typical American families, who never had to ask for anything before in their lives,” he says. “These are the folks who always give to others. They have a deep sense of pride, and it often took a lot for them to say, ‘yes.’ I almost always had to force it into their hands.” 

In December, RepairRestoreRenew teamed with the Alumni Society, collecting toys at the University’s alumni Christmas parties along the East Coast. With the society’s assistance, RepairRestoreRenew accumulated more than 1,000 toys for its holiday toy drive, distributing them to communities on Long Island. Grech and company hope to continue collecting donations in the months to come.

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