By Virginia Dean, Special To The Standard
Staten Island might be known as New York City’s “forgotten borough,” but it is clearly remembered here in Woodstock, where members of the Social Justice Task Force of the Universalist Church are getting ready to deliver a truckload of goods to those in need on this 59-square mile island of nearly a half-million people.
“They need our help and, if I can, I’m happy to do it,” said Woodstock resident Akankha Perkins, a member of the recently formed Green Mountain Sandy Relief Team, which is part of the task force. “It’s a wonderful way for humans to share and reach out to each other. It makes the world smaller. This is the reason for being — to help each other.”
Perkins will be one of many volunteers who will oversee a 52-foot, 18-wheeler truck, provided by Bellavance Trucking of Barre, at a cost of $1,200, that will be stationed behind Woodstock Pizza Chef beginning Monday, Dec. 10, to collect donations. The truck will be there until Sunday, Dec. 16, when it will head down to a storage area in New York.
The specific delivery target is Midland Beach on Staten Island where Barnard residents Laurel and Erik Tobiason have relatives and their neighbors whose homes were demolished by Hurricane Sandy.
“We’ve done a lot of work with volunteering,” said Laurel Tobiason. “We plan to organize and direct volunteers to an area where they can be of the most help. We have an idea and places to stay where volunteers can go. We can safely and comfortably take a group down there and arrange for them to do the work and supervise it.”
Tobiason said the work is expected to be intense.
“The hope is that we will get volunteers who have some building ability or who aren’t afraid of getting dirty,” Tobiason said. “It’s messy, dirty work, and you also work with people in their own homes that have been devastated. They are not used to being homeless. Their families have split and many are living in trailers or cars.”
Tobiason and her husband have made several trips to Staten Island in the past. She explained that nearly 70 percent of the Midland Beach area is unlivable.
“Most of the houses are old, 1900 cottages that can’t be lived in because there’s no electricity or heating,” said Tobiason.
Two more weekend trips are slated for Dec. 28-31 and Jan. 11-14. Accommodations will be provided. Individuals, businesses, churches, schools and colleges are all invited to participate.
Donations of small items will also be collected during the same week by Lukana’s Dream, a shop in Bethel, owned by Madeleine Daniel who is also a member of the Relief Team and, with the assistance of Erik Tobiason, an originator of the idea of the project.
“We’re looking for anything you would find on a first-floor home especially in regard to a kitchen,” said Daniel. “Furniture, tables, couches, beds, and chairs- anything in good condition. There’s a sense of urgency now because many families are in shelters and it’s getting cold.”
Joanne Boyle of Woodstock, who worked closely with the Irene relief efforts, is coordinating the projects.
“I organize things,” said Boyle. “That’s what I do. I am the worker bee and am in charge of public relations. It’s a great project. We do need volunteers to staff the truck. We’ve contacted churches, the Vermont Law School, to get the word out.”
Universalist Church Pastor Daniel Jantos, who worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, indicated that the most efficient way to help with this new project is to work with specific families from demolition to reconstruction.
And, Gina Auriema of Woodstock, another member of the Relief Team, indicated that her involvement hits close to home.
“My husband grew up on Staten Island,” Auriema said. “He has a long history with the island, so I was very interested. I’ve never done anything like this. I’m nervous but excited. I like the idea of communities that aren’t otherwise connected, connecting. It’s that reaching the hand across the borders or state lines. It’s a great time for giving as well.”
“This has been quite fun because there are so many people who want to make it happen,” Daniel said. “I have never worked with such a willing group of people who want to make it happen at the busiest time of year to do what they can to help.”
Members of the Relief Team have met twice in the last 10 days to continue organizing plans for the three weekend trips. Tax receipts will be available for all donations. For further information, contact Joanne Boyle at 457-7057 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Laurel and Erik Tobiason at 234-5578 or email@example.com.