Superstorm Sandy: Before, During And Beyond
2:57 pm
Thu November 22, 2012

Sandy Victims Get Bird's-Eye View Of Homelessness

Originally published on Thu November 22, 2012 3:09 pm

It's been almost a month since Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast, and for many people, it means the first Thanksgiving outside of their destroyed homes or without the friends or family they usually visit.

In New York City, Thanksgiving has been mass-produced in shelters, churches and community centers where thousands upon thousands of storm victims can find free meals.

Many of them are sharing their first post-storm Thanksgiving with people who are hungry year-round.

Mary Hennings was homeless before Sandy and she's still homeless now. She having a Thanksgiving meal Thursday at St. Mark's Church in Lower Manhattan, which was advertised as a place where Sandy victims could go. Hennings says she can't help but notice the surge in charity.

"People say, 'Oh my goodness, people lost their power, their refrigerated goods. You know, they might not have a Thanksgiving,' " she says. "Now, all of a sudden, they want to partake in being helpful, but what they fail to realize is that people like me and other good people go every day without having a warm place to sleep."

The impulse to feed has gripped this city: website after website trying to organize Thanksgiving meals for storm victims started saying days ago that they can't accept any more volunteers. Celebrity chefs are swooping in. The Food Bank banded together Wednesday with a high-end Wall Street restaurant called Cipriani to feed more than 1,000 guests.

Twelve-year-old Chantel Windham's home in the Rockaways was flooded. And now here, the live jazz band and plates of gourmet beef tenderloin just don't feel like real Thanksgiving, she says.

Windham says she's used to being around family and friends. Every Thanksgiving, she and her father would drive down to South Carolina to see her grandparents. But the family car was destroyed by the storm. Now, she's packed in at a table with her neighbor and three men she doesn't know.

In this dining room open to anyone who needs a free meal, you'll find the storm tables. There's the Coney Island table, the Rockaway table and the Staten Island table. That's where Anthony Pittius and Jessica Lamberti are sitting. They were supposed to get married this month, but then Sandy hit, and those plans washed away, along with the two wedding bands that were never worn. Gone. Lamberti's still nursing a black eye after a refrigerator hit her face that night.

"At first I was locked in the bathroom, and he had to kick in the bathroom door to get me out, and then the water was so high that everything was just floating and the fridge just smacked me right in the eye," Lamberti says. "And we had to, you know, swim out."

Lamberti and her fiancé have lived in a shelter on Staten Island ever since. All they have to wear now is donated clothes, but the two say they are grateful for the meal.

"On a regular basis we really don't get hot meals," she says.

Just wraps, Pittius adds, and Ramen soups. To be able to share this meal is a blessing, he says.

Then there are some storm victims who are hoping to host their own parties with kitchens that just got power back. In Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood Wednesday, hundreds of residents lined up to pick up free turkeys.

Maurice Geddie hadn't yet asked his wife for permission to be standing in line. She had told him she was too tired to prepare a Thanksgiving meal after cooking nonstop at shelters since the storm hit. Will she be a little annoyed if he now makes her cook a turkey?

"Yeah, well ... that's part of the tradition, right? That's part of the tradition so why lose it now, right?" he says, while laughing.

Geddie says Thanksgiving is about chilling at home — your own home. And he was determined to make this year no different from years past — like it or not, Sandy.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And happy Thanksgiving.

It's been almost a month since Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Northeast. And for many people, today is the first Thanksgiving they've spent close to home but not in their homes or without the friends and family they usually visit. In New York City, Thanksgiving has been mass-produced in shelters, churches and community centers. And as NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, many are sharing the holiday with people who are hungry year-round.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Mary Hennings was homeless before Superstorm Sandy, and she's still homeless now. Today, we're sitting in St. Mark's Church in lower Manhattan at a Thanksgiving meal that was advertised as a place where Sandy victims could go. Hennings says she can't help but notice the surge in charity lately.

MARY HENNINGS: People say, oh my goodness, people lost their power, people lost their refrigerated goods. You know, they might not have a Thanksgiving. But now, all of a sudden, they want to, like, partake in being helpful. But what they fail to realize is that, like, people like me and other good people go every day without having, like, a warm place to sleep.

CHANG: The impulse to feed has gripped this city. Website after website trying to organize Thanksgiving meals for storm victims started saying days ago they can't accept any more volunteers. Celebrity chefs are swooping in. The Food Bank banded together yesterday with a high-end Wall Street restaurant called Cipriani to feed more than 1,000 guests. Twelve-year-old Chantel Windham saw her home get flooded in the Rockaways. And now, here, the live jazz band and plates of gourmet beef tenderloin just don't feel like real Thanksgiving.

You're used to being around family?

CHANTEL WINDHAM: Yeah.

CHANG: And friends? Every Thanksgiving, Chantal and her father drive down to South Carolina to see her grandparents. But the family car was destroyed by the storm. Now, she's packed in at a table with her neighbor and three men she doesn't know.

Have you tried introducing yourself to them?

WINDHAM: No.

CHANG: A little shy?

WINDHAM: Yes.

CHANG: In this dining room open to anyone who needs a free Thanksgiving meal, you'll find the storm tables. There is the Coney Island table, the Rockaway table and the Staten Island tables. That's where Anthony Pittius and Jessica Lamberti are sitting. They were supposed to get married this month, but then Sandy hit, and those plans were washed away along with two wedding bands that were never worn. Gone. Lamberti's still nursing a black eye after a refrigerator collided with her face that night.

JESSICA LAMBERTI: At first, I was locked in the bathroom, and he had to kick in the bathroom door to get me out. And then the water was so high that everything was just floating and the fridge just smacked me right in the eye. And - but we had to, you know, swim out.

CHANG: Lamberti and her fiance have been living in a shelter on Staten Island ever since. All they have to wear now is donated clothes, but hey.

LAMBERTI: We're so grateful for this meal because on a regular basis, you really don't get hot meals.

ANTHONY PITTIUS: Just wraps. All we eat is wraps over there and ramen soups.

LAMBERTI: Yeah. Ramen soups and chips. So, I mean, to come here and have this great meal was just like...

PITTIUS: A blessing.

LAMBERTI: Yeah. We feel great right now just to have regular, hot-cooked, you know...

PITTIUS: Nice glass of wine.

LAMBERTI: Yeah, you know what I mean?

CHANG: Then there are the storm victims who are hoping to host their own parties with kitchens that just got power back. In Red Hook, Brooklyn, last night, hundreds of residents were lined up to pick up free turkey.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Eighty-five.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're welcome. Have a blessed day.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Thank you.

CHANG: Maurice Geddie hasn't yet asked his wife for permission to be standing in this line. She had told him she was too tired to prepare a Thanksgiving meal after cooking nonstop at shelters since the storm hit. I asked him, isn't your wife going to be a little annoyed if you now make her cook a turkey?

MAURICE GEDDIE: Yeah. She goes, well, that's part of the tradition, right?

(LAUGHTER)

GEDDIE: That's part of the tradition, so why lose it now, right?

CHANG: Geddie says Thanksgiving is about chilling at home, your own home. And he's determined to make this year no different from years past - like it or not, Sandy.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.