By Nicholas Rizzi, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
NEW DORP BEACH — A tent city set up to serve as a headquarters for Staten Island relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy will be pulled down by New Year's Day, volunteers have been told.
Organizers of a relief camp set up in New Dorp Beach, which hands out hot food, clothing, heaters and cleaning supplies to people hard hit by Sandy, said the city told them to take down the tents before Jan. 1 because of fears they couldn't withstand winter weather.
“January 1st I’m being shut down because of weather conditions,” said Donna Graziano, 52, who runs the Cedar Grove Community Hub group of volunteer tents, which in open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day at Cedar Grove Avenue and New Dorp Lane.
She said at a meeting of volunteers and affected residents called Thursday night that she was told the ruling would affect tents set up on public property across the city.
“If they’re outside, they’re going to be shut down,” she said.
The mayor's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Graziano's community of five large tents serves residents who live near Cedar Grove Avenue — one of the worst affected areas in the city.
Thursday's meeting was attended by more than 20 residents who signed a petition to keep the tents open.
“They can’t come down,” said Lorraine Orobello, 54, who lost her home in the storm. “What are we going to do? This is part of the healing process.”
Orobello said that nearly two months after Sandy, many people thought the rebuilding process would be much faster. However, she said many people still don’t have power or hot water and the service from the volunteers is invaluable.
Graziano, who lives in Brooklyn, said if she could move her tents onto private property she thinks the city wouldn’t be able to shut her down, but she has not been able to find a suitable space.
“I feel bad, very bad,” said Frank Russo, 61, a 13-year resident of the neighborhood who signed the petition. “Why are they doing this? What’s the issue here? Our winters have been mild.”
Russo said that he’s been coming to the tents for hot food every day since they opened up and said the neighborhood still needs the help.
Graziano said that many residents nearby still don’t have heat, hot water or power and can’t cook food.
“A lot don't have a way to cook and feed themselves right now,” she said. “There are still some people without electricity.”
Approximately 509 residents in Staten Island are still without power, a Con Edison spokesman said. To get power back, residents need to hire a contractor to repair their electrical systems.
In the tents, volunteers have set up a line of catering trays for residents, a Christmas tree, a TV and outside heaters.
“We had tried to make this feel like a personal getaway,” Graziano said during the meeting. “You guys became our family.”
The volunteer community started small with a barbecue and some hot dogs, but grew into a five-tent complex in a parking lot, with members from Occupy Sandy joining, some sleeping in a heated tent.
Graziano, who has been helping out for nearly 52 days, said that’s she tried to move the site or rent a location, but couldn't afford it.
“I run this center on zero grants,” she said.
She said that she promised from the start to stay in the neighborhood until she wasn't needed anymore.
"I want to go home to my kids," she said. "But I made a promise."