One of the remarkable aspects of a catastrophic event like Hurricane Sandy is the great disparity of its impact. In New York, where I live, there was massive devastation and human suffering in some parts of the city, but in others, there was hardly a sign that anything at all had happened.
Unfortunately, the gap between those two extremes has compounded the struggles for thousands of people in our region. It took days after the storm hit for the full scope of the damage in places like Staten Island, the Rockaways, Coney Island and parts of Long Island and New Jersey to be fully revealed. In the meantime, life went on for the majority of the city.
Today, the transit system is almost fully recovered and power has been almost entirely restored. Almost everywhere in the city things seem to be back to normal. But as someone who has spent time since the storm hit in the Rockaways, the destruction is very present, and the deep layers of future hardship have only just begun.
Through Baby Buggy, the nonprofit I founded almost 12 years ago, I am lucky enough to be part of a team of people who already had deep roots in the areas that were hit by Sandy. Over 2,200 families we had already served live in the areas hardest hit. As a result, we hit the ground running when the water subsided after the storm.
I founded Baby Buggy in 2001 around a simple idea: to collect and provide essential items like cribs, strollers, and clothing families to families in need. To reuse the items children quickly outgrow for the benefit of people in our city that cannot afford the basics. My husband Jerry came up with our motto, "Love. Recycled."
Almost 12 years and over six million distributed items later, we work through a network of 60 agencies including Nurse-Family Partnership and Head Start sites across the country. That means that a mother or father who receives our donations is enrolled in a program that will help her/him to build a more stable future for their family over the long term.
In the Rockaways, we've worked for years with the VNS Early Head Start program, which works tirelessly to help stabilize and educate low-income families. The Hurricane devastated their site and now, both staff and clients are completely uprooted.
When I visited the site shortly after the storm came through, it looked like a set from a disaster movie. It was unsalvageable -- every inch covered in mud, sand, and mold. The classrooms, with their tiny pre-school sized chairs, were completely turned upside down.
Even more heartbreaking, the lives of families that relied on its services mirrored the devastation we saw. According to Mayor Bloomberg, approximately 40,000 New Yorkers were left homeless as a result of Sandy. Some of these families even separated from children because their temporary housing cannot accommodate the entire family. And while their lives have been overturned, they also face insurmountable tasks. Simultaneously finding an affordable place to live, looking for a job, and finding a new school or child care would be daunting for any family. But when you layer on top of those stresses paying utilities in a home you've been displaced from, the dislocation of friends, family and loved ones, and sleeping on other people's couches and floors, the result is trauma. Families are pushed to the brink of collapse.
The families most affected by Hurricane Sandy were some of this country's most vulnerable. By the loss of the Early Head Start program, working parents no longer have affordable child-care nearby. That affects their ability to work, or even look for a job. I visited one woman, Maria, who cannot return to her home because of the mold spores covering her walls, furniture, and clothing. Her asthma was clearly aggravated by the mold growing by the second all over her every possession.
We have a long road to recovery ahead. The mold and the respiratory issues are as overwhelming as the homelessness and physical destruction. Thousands of volunteers have swarmed the areas to provide meals, rides, and any kind of helping hand. Baby Buggy has now donated over 60,000 items to families affected by Sandy.
Baby Buggy has seen an incredible outpouring of support -- from the $100,000 donation from the Iacocca Family Foundation to the little girl who mailed us winter coats from Canada. My husband Jerry is doing benefit shows in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island and donating $100,000 of the proceeds to Baby Buggy's efforts.
To kick off the holiday season baby Buggy has teamed up with Stacey Bendet, Alice + Olivia, Kourtney Kardashian and her Dash stores to help families in need this holiday season with a Holiday Drive. Through New Year's Eve, Dash and Alice + Olivia stores nationwide will be collecting donations of new packages of diapers & wipes, new or unused toys and books which will be donated to families in need with kids aged 0-12.
This support helps us continue to deliver diapers, baby food, cribs, coats and more to families as they try to rebuild their lives and homes. It is work Baby Buggy has been doing all along but the hurricane has demanded more from us and we have risen to the occasion for our families, for our partners, in a whole new way.
As we all go about our busy lives during the holiday season, and take care of the people we love, it's my hope that we can also stop to consider the people whose lives remain in turmoil. Please help organizations like Baby Buggy and so many others to help Hurricane Sandy's littlest victims.