Maine Helps, a group of Maine volunteers supported by the Portland Fire Department recently launched a Hurricane Sandy relief project offering desperately needed rebuilding tools and supplies to storm victims who are still struggling to reclaim and rehabilitate their damaged homes – the project had taken on new urgency in the wake of the blizzard called Winter Storm Nemo.
On Saturday, March 23, all of the fire stations in the city of Portland served as collection points, where citizens could drop off any of the needed items.
The initiative, dubbed Maine Helps, was timed to overcome "disaster fatigue," the lapse of interest by outside parties once the immediate dangers have passed, news coverage subsides but long-term issues remain unresolved.
"Disasters, of course, have an immediate response phase, and there always is an outpouring of support in the days following the event," noted Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria. "But victims often face lengthy delays before they can even get back into their homes to assess damages and begin repairs, and as the weeks and months pass, the relief supplies begin to dwindle just when some of the harder work begins"
"The aim of Maine Helps was to replenish those supplies, and get them into the hands of the victims to support their long-term recovery efforts," Chief LaMoria said.
The aid was distributed to heavily damaged areas of Rockaway, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Maine Helps coordinated its efforts with two major relief organizations operating in the recovery zone: World Cares and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
The list of needed items requested by on-the-ground relief teams in the five boroughs area included:
The collected materials were shipped to distribution centers in metro New York by crews operating trucks donated by Bisson Moving & Storage Company, of Westbrook.
The effort was an outgrowth of an earlier Maine-New York City relationship formed in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy which honors Fire Department of New York (FDNY) members and their families with free weeklong stays at "9/11 Family Camps" offered by Camp Kieve at Damariscotta Lake. Designed to provide a healing time to relax and refresh along the Maine coast, the camp also hosts families affected by 9/11 losses at the Pentagon and Ground Zero.
"It's like Katrina here. Our whole town is devastated," said FDNY veteran Steve O'Sullivan of Rockaway, NY, whose family has been coming to Camp Kieve since 2002. Many FDNY families live in the impacted neighborhoods, which have now suffered the effects of 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and Winter Storm Nemo.
"Some people may have forgotten this, but Hurricane Sandy was at one point supposed to hit as far north as Maine," said Russ Williams, a representative of Camp Kieve "We all dodged a bullet up here, and Maine Helps is an opportunity to share our good fortune with people who have been dealing with months of frustration, delays and severely cold weather."
Maine Helps organizers included retired FDNY Lt. Kevin Hogan of Portland, who raced to the World Trade Center site on September 11, 2001.
"I can't tell you how much this means to the people who are the victims of these disasters," said Hogan, himself a former Ladder 3 firefighter. "We hope to continue these efforts to demonstrate that even in the long term, there are people who will be there over the long haul."
Those still wishing to make online cash donations may support the following on-the-ground relief agencies that are working with Maine Helps volunteers:
(Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation) https://www.tunneltotowersfoundation.org/hsrl-donate.aspx