It only took a Facebook posting to kick-off what is now a massive, well-organized Hurricane Sandy relief effort in Sayville that is helping families from Mastic Beach to the Rockaways, as well as volunteer out-of-state rescue workers.
Just a few days after Sandy hit, Seafarer Gift Shop owner Barbara Whitbread posted a note on a new Sayville Chamber Facebook page that the Sayville chamber would be collecting needed items for those whose lives were distrupted by the storm's devastation.
By the end of that same day, her nautical storefront on Main Street had a full box of donations.
The decision to take action, said Whitbread, was one borne from frustration of seeing people without heat, food, lights and living in wet conditions.
"The response [from agencies] to help was not soon enough so I decided to do something," she said.
Within a day or so later, her popular shop was filled with clothing, food, health items, personal needs items and volunteers coming by to do whatever they could to help out. The shop actually overfilled three times within one 24-hour period.
"I was quickly swamped with stuff," said Whitbread, who then turned her focus on getting the donations to residents.
The business owner has relied heavily on Facebook postings and e-mails to chamber members, community groups and friends, to figure out what families need and where donations can be delivered.
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Two weeks later the relief effort had grown so large it was moved to the former Sayville Library on Collins Avenue, a space donated by the new owners. The rooms that once housed thousands of books now house boxes upon boxes of clothing, shoes, food items, cleaning supplies, pet supplies and baby supplies.
The doors see a daily stream of local volunteers who come in to sort and pack up needed items for delivery to homes and shelters. Many come several days a week to put in a few hours unpacking, sorting and packing up shipments.
Sayville resident Wendy Liu has volunteered every day since the first notice about the effort went out.
"I saw the notice and was happy to help out," she said Thursday morning, taking a break from packing up a family box. In the next room Blue Point resident Charlene Lehmann was putting in an hour during her third volunteer stint.
Another four volunteers were working in the grocery and food item room while Whitbread and Samantha Pabisch, who with her husband owns M.W. Lavelle Painting in Sayville, manned the phones, checked e-mail and Facebook postings for donation needs, created packing ship lists and organized distribution of the goods. Those wanting to donate or to volunteer time are asked to check the Facebook page, e-mail Whitbread at email@example.com or call 631-256-8458.
The community response to help has been as phenomenal as has the outreach effort's accomplishments.
As of November 11, 61 families have been helped, 26 box-truck loads have been made, 71 car and van loads have been delivered to relief centers and bedding, towels and toiletries have been provided to out-of-state fireman on Long Island assisting with the recovery effort.
"The need is still as strong," said Whitbread, with new supplies such as shovels, cleaning supplies and other deconstruction equipment also coming in. These items are now needed to help displaced families who are focused on cleanup and repair.
She predicts the effort will be needed for several more weeks. While some displaced residents early on were shy about asking for supplies, the colder weather and the lack of power for a remaining few have made having the basics a necessity.
Whitbread continually updates the Facebook page with notes about specific donation needs. Thursday's early day posts on the Sayville Chamber Facebook page included a call for more food and cleanup supplies, as well as delivery volunteers to Islip, Bohemia and Ronkonkoma. A post yesterday noted the need for hammers, crowbars, work gloves, heavy duty flat shovels, heavy duty push brooms, dust masks, contractor trash bags, wheel barrows and plastic trash cans.
And the community is responding with donations and by volunteering their time.
"There is a deep sentiment in the community to really do something to help. A lot of people rallied around this effort to help people whose lives were just up ended by the storm. This isn't about people needing charity, it's about people whose lives were devastated and who need some help to get back to living," said Whitbread. "The community support to make that happen has just been amazing."