(Queens, NY, October 30, 2015) On Thursday, October 29, the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Faith in New York (FiNY) together with Community Voices Heard (CVH) hosted a march and community forum commemorating the third anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. While celebrating accomplishments since the storm, organizers’ main focus was on the future goals for Far Rockaway’s ongoing recovery from the devastation. The march commenced from two locations simultaneously, First Church of God on Beach Channel Drive and St. Gertrude Church on Beach 38th Street. Marchers then came together at Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School for the community forum with key supporters and officials.
Filled with purpose, marchers flooded the streets chanting along the way to the Peninsula Prep where they convened with key elected officials for a panel discussion on current state of Far Rockaway. Even the children chimed in to the rhythms while they supported their elders, providing information and directions to participants and bystanders. The forum began immediately after the march and was open to the public. Topics at the heart of the discussion for the elected panelist were rebuilding & recovery, communication & accountability, and economic sustainability.
FINY and CVH highlighted existing challenges and the vision for what work is needed going forward. Each audience member was given the opportunity to submit questions and concerns via comment cards distributed upon entry. Father Fulgencio Gutierrez, pastor of St. Mary’s Star of the Sea and St. Gertrude’s Church, one of the largest congregations in the Rockaways, inspired the crowd saying “Your presence is power! You are created in the image of God.” Resident Elaine Short gave her testimony that she was only given five hours to evacuate when 72 hours is mandatory state notice; the result of improper communication from the City to Rockaway residents. Elaine went on to say that her aunt in nursing home was displaced. Her husband was ill and on IV and had to wander the streets for hours with no cell service. Hours later husband entered hospital then passed.
Those elected officials present at the event were Senator James Sanders Jr. and Councilman Mark Treyger. Rushing in as fast as he could from a prior commitment, Councilmen Treyger wrapped things up saying “From where we were one year ago to where we are today is a different place but not a final destination. It is because of Faith in New York, Community Voices Heard and other organizations alike that we unite and gather and our voices echo from Coney Island to Far Rockaway.” A representative for Councilman Donovan, in terms of creating jobs and rebuilding damaged houses for Rockaway residents, “Training centers will be made available for people who would like to work through Beach Street North Project. The RDIC will make it mandatory that at least 50% of the workforce will have to be Rockaway residents.”
FINY asked Senator Sanders to make a commitment to many of their recommendations for a more equitable recovery over the next eight weeks. The audience was initially shocked by his response of no. That subsided when he promised, instead, to act upon these recommendations over the next four weeks, as he believes these suggestions should be put into action sooner than later. Some of the recommendations include, but are not limited to, city support of the development of deeply affordable housing in the Rockaways and other Sandy impacted communities; resolution of remaining issues with Build It Back to assure that homeowners are back in their homes as soon as possible, better support for immigrant communities and renters in future disasters, and clearly developed and communicated emergency plans.
The public can continue to send in their questions to elected officials via FINY’s Twitter and Facebook accounts @faithinnewyork or via the website at www.FaithInNewYork.com