Good Samaritan Puts Needs of Fellow Sandy Victims First
By Christine Albano
When eight feet of water engulfed Bob Dennis’ basement and destroyed the utilities and office space of his high ranch-style home in Midland Beach, he decided to help fellow victims of Super Storm Sandy before handling repairs on his own dwelling.
“I wasn’t eligible for anything from the government,” he said. “I had flood insurance, but anything below grade was not covered.”
Though distressed and discouraged about his own damages, Dennis was determined to come to the aid of other homeowners in the neighborhood at their time of need.
Looking around, some had more damage than Dennis, and some had less. But either way, the parishioner of St. Margaret Mary’s R.C. Church drew from his Catholic faith and quickly became a Good Samaritan when the storm hit back on that fateful night October 29, 2012.
“So much needed to be done when I looked at the area,” he recalled back in December.
“It was a devastating thing that happened here,” Dennis explained. “I was out on the street when it happened – it took a phenomenal toll. We saw so many people die here…there was a lot of tragic death,” he continued, adding that 20 people died from the Midland Beach parish area.
More than two years later, the former vice president and forensic international bond settlement project manager at JPMorgan Securities who retired in 2009, is still active in his mission to put others first.
“I hate to be at a place and not try and make a difference,” said the 70-year-old Brooklyn native who moved to Midland Beach in 1971 with his wife, Maureen, after they married.
They quickly set up roots in the community, raising their children and building a life there – including a long affiliation as parishioners of St. Margaret Mary’s parish where his wife had a 29-year career as a first-grade teacher.
Although she passed away in 2009, his commitment at the church remained strong, serving as the parish manager for three years – a job he continued until retiring in 2013.
So it was no wonder that when Super Storm Sandy devastated his neighbors’ homes, as well as the church, he rolled up his sleeves and began helping his fellow residents and parishioners.
“In trying to help the church we got so many donations from alumni from the school, and from people who grew up here and went to school here,” he recalled.
Money started pouring in, but with the church’s insurance kicking in for most of the damages, Dennis realized it was the parishioners that needed the financial assistance. He helped create a Sandy Relief Fund to help distribute the $180,000 in collections that were accumulated.
It was also at that time when he tried to maximize the assistance he could offer fellow storm victims, and became involved with the non-profit Staten Island Long-Term Recovery Organization, serving as the church’s delegate to the organization, and later as its treasurer.
“I wanted to stay involved and help and make sure that any money that was received was put back into the community and not absorbed someplace else,” he said.
“We helped a lot of people — not just parishioners – a lot of people in the area,” he explained.
By contrast he said he was “disheartened” when he heard of collections that occurred elsewhere and never trickled down to Midland Beach residents – some of the hardest hit by the storm.
He said the LTRO’s presence and dedication amid the ongoing, post-Sandy relief effort gives the area “a lot of hope.”
Through resources, support, and donations, the LTRO helps residents with rebuilding and mold remediation; needs assessment; clothing and food; policy, advocacy, legal, and housing services; disaster case management; finance, mission, and structure; health, mental health, and spiritual care; immigrant services; volunteer coordination, government relations, and civic leadership.
Dennis is still actively working on emergency preparedness efforts with the LTRO to learn the necessary resources and skills in the event of another storm.
“We still have so many houses and so many people who have not been able to come back — physically and mentally,” he said of his ongoing commitment to the LTRO and the Midland Beach recovery initiatives.
For him, one of the hardest parts of the effort has been the final removal of a building at St. Margaret Mary’s that was beyond repair – the same building that housed his wife’s first grade class.
Another difficult part has become the holidays.
Back in December 2012, for instance, after more than a month of debris removal, renovations, and repairs, he spent his days helping to feed needy and displaced residents three meals a day leading up to and including Christmas Eve, and organizing clothing and toy drives to distribute to local families with assistance from groups, such as the Knight of Columbus.
But, he says he was happy to do so – even though his own home was without heat or electricity after Super Storm Sandy until mid-December.
His first Christmas after the storm was the most difficult.
After the devastating experience, parishioners gained strength and were moved and uplifted by a special visit from Cardinal Timothy Dolan who celebrated a special Christmas mass at St. Margaret Mary’s back that first Christmas, Dennis recalled.
Though each Christmas since gets easier for the displaced homeowners as more families become normalized, Dennis said there are still unmet needs among struggling families — especially immigrants.
“They are a lot less likely to go to the government for help,” he said.
St. Margaret Mary’s offers a year-round food pantry that continues to help those residents, and he is as committed to facilitate recovery for his fellow Staten Islanders – from Midland Beach and beyond – as he was two years ago.
“We want to make sure any money still out there gets put in the right place,” he said of the homeowners and residents. “There’s still a lot to be done, homes have to be fixed – and they need resilience.”