Contact: Christine Albano
Media relations, S.I. Long Term Recovery Organization
For immediate release – Nov. 13, 2014
(The following is an account about one of Staten Island’s good Samaritans who are still active in the aftermath of the Super Storm Sandy recovery effort, and part of a series of stories being pitched by the Long Term Recovery Organization to bring awareness to its volunteers, partners, and the organization’s ongoing outreach to the Staten Island community in the second year of the recovery initiative.
With the holiday season just around the corner, Elizabeth Dulski is reminded of the heart-wrenching — yet also heart-warming — images she encountered while delivering Thanksgiving dinners two years ago to victims of Super Storm Sandy.
“They opened the door and they started crying because they were so thankful that we were bringing them a hot meal,” she recalled of a devastated family on a tiny, narrow street in Foxwood Beach, which she said looked more like a war zone than a neighborhood.
The Meiers Corners resident – then a volunteer with local non-profit Guyon Rescue — is one of hundreds of volunteers that converged on the storm-battered coast of Staten Island in the days and weeks after the historic storm hit on Oct. 29, 2012.
But, she is also one of the few dedicated volunteers who are still consistently giving of their time and effort more than two years later.
“Your heart goes out to these people,” said the native Staten Islander recently.
“People are quick to forget,” she continued. “The ones who aren’t affected forget that people still haven’t gotten back into their homes.”
It was her natural giving spirit that led Ms. Dulski to become involved in the Sandy relief effort after retiring from a 37-year career in the benefits department at Colgate Palmolive in July 2013.
“I always wanted to volunteer when I retired,” explained the parishioner of St. Rita’s R.C. Church in Meiers Corners.
She said she feels obligated to continue to aid Sandy victims while the need is still apart – and encourages other Staten Islanders to do their part.
“You would hope your neighbors would come and help if you needed it,” she said.
After working with Guyon Rescue two years ago, Ms. Dulski became active in April with the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program administered by the Community Service Society. After she saw an advertisement seeking volunteers to join RSVP’s benefits counseling program, but wanting to do more, she quickly joined a team of seniors who manned a phone bank once a week over a three week period to evaluate Sandy-affected homeowners’ ongoing recovery needs.
The phone bank was an initiative spearheaded by the Staten Island Long Term Recovery Organization – a grassroots collaboration of non-profit, faith-based, and community groups that provides resources, support, and donations to those residents who have ongoing relief, recovery and rebuilding needs.
“She has been a key player in the Sandy relief work that we have done,” said Tami DiCostanzo, project director of RSVP.
Mrs. DiCostanzo called her a “highly skilled, dedicated volunteer and a real asset to RSVP and the other organizations where she serves,” including the LTRO.
Working on the phone bank was both depressing and gratifying, Ms. Dulski said. After eventually speaking with home owners, she realized the situation was much worse than she thought.
“They opened up and told you their stories and some of them were heart wrenching,” she recalled recently.
But, that was only after she convinced residents not to hang up on her.
She said many of them were originally wary of her offer of assistance, and worried that she represented a city or government agency – many of which had already broken promises of aid and recovery, she learned.
“They didn’t want to talk to anyone and didn’t believe anyone would help them,” she explained.
She has friends from Staten Island to Long Island who were affected, so she felt compelled to help out – even though her own neighborhood had minimal to no damage.
She said she felt a strong commitment to help less fortunate Islanders – some of whom lost nearly everything, she said.
For instance, one of Ms. Dulski’s former co-workers eventually accepted a buy-out option after being placed in temporary housing when she lost her Wynan Avenue home in the storm.
It was stories like those that made Sandy relief efforts easy for Ms. Dulski. Since the storm, she volunteered with the All Hands Disaster Relief Organization, and continues to be active in RSVP and the LTRO. Besides her Sandy efforts, earlier this year she also became a volunteer at the Stapleton Senior Center, and for the past three years has been volunteering at the wellness center at the three-day Avon Walk for Breast Cancer on Randall’s Island.
When the LTRO hosted its “Light the Shore” resiliency walk and remembrance event to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, Ms. Dulski attended the event with a heavy heart.
“There are so many Staten Islanders who are not in their homes,” she said before the event.
Recalling the initial volunteer response in the weeks after the storm, she spoke enthusiastically of dozens of fellow volunteers – especially college students and those that came from overseas.
“It’s great that there are still young people out there that are service-oriented and willing to give up their summers to help these people who they don’t even know,” she said.
Yet, two years later, she is disappointed at the lack of outreach when the need is still so apparent and many families torn apart by the storm are still struggling to recover.
She noted that the holiday season is an especially upsetting time for these victims – many of whom are preparing to spend their third make-shift Christmas in temporary housing, dislocated from their own storm-damaged homes.
“That Christmas [in 2012] the mall was packed with Christmas shoppers, like everything was back to normal — but it wasn’t back to normal for so many people,” Ms. Dulski remembered.
This year, she said Islanders should keep their fellow residents in mind as they go about their own holiday preparations and realize that, for some, the storm is still raging.
“People feel bad when it happens, but then they go about their daily lives and push that out of their minds,” she said.
“They should take a ride around Staten Island and see what’s not back to normal,” she said.
(Residents interested in volunteering with or making a donation to the Long Term Recovery Organization should visit its website at sisandyhelp.org, or contact Alana Tornello at firstname.lastname@example.org or 718-702-7455. They can also contact Karen Jackson at email@example.com. Adults 55 years and older interested in volunteering with RSVP should contact Tami DiCostanzo, project director, at 718-494-3222 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)