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After Sandy: Darien families donate, deliver to New Yorkers in need

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When he heard about the devastation in Rockaway Beach, New York, Terry Bock arranged to drive donations down to the area.

He enlisted the dads at Ox Ridge School, where Bock is the chief of the Adventure Guides and Sons program. The national YMCA program for kids in first through fourth grade is “designed as a program to nurture children,” Bock said.

Each elementary school in Darien has a group of parents and kids named after a tribe. At Ox Ridge, the boys are Apaches, including his own seven  and nine year old. The girls are Cherokees, part of the Guides and Princesses, which is also led by dads.

Bock started to get his own home in order before he realized how bad the situation was outside of Connecticut. He organized a school-wide collection at Hindley on Saturday for essential items such as flash lights, ready to eat dry foods, blankets, diapers, cleaning supplies and bottled water. Bock and his sons drove down to Belle Harbor in the Rockaways in a fully loaded, 14-foot truck filled “wall-to-wall-to-ceiling” with  “high-quality and the most needed items” on Sunday, Nov. 11.

The whole event was organized within a few days, he said. There are 37 pairs of dads and kids at Ox Ridge, and 9 groups at the rest of the schools. Bock sent out invitations for all of the families to participate or donate.

“It sort of never occurred to me that the need would be so dire,” Bock said. “You didn’t have a sense of how bad it was because you weren’t watching TV.”

Belle Harbor is on the inside of the Rockaway peninsula in Queens facing John F. Kennedy airport, and has less than a mile of land between the Atlantic Ocean. It is less than five miles from Breezy Point, which lost over 100 homes by an uncontrollable fire during Hurricane Sandy.

The goal of the trip was to make an impact on families who lost so much because of the hurricane, but it was also “getting the kids invested and using it as a teachable moment,” Bock said. In many communities, like Darien, kids no longer spend their time running around outside, mowing lawns or delivering newspapers, which makes a volunteer opportunity like this one important, he said.

The plan was to get the donations to distribution centers but they barely made it inside, Bock said. The items were gone, straight from the truck into people’s hands, within five minutes. The items took all morning to load, he said.

Bock had scouted for a location where there would already be volunteers to help with unloading since it would only be his sons and himself from Darien. Before deciding on Belle Harbor, Bock heard about two Federal Emergency Management Agency centers in the area and two Occupy Sandy donation sites in Brooklyn through word other people.

“Some of the social media outlets are incredibly efficient about communicating what’s needed and where,” he said

Three weeks out from the storm, the drive across the area was still a sight in itself. About 10 miles off the Van Wyck Expressway had no power and barely any working traffic lights, Bock said. New York police officers directed traffic and had portable light towers for night use. Only a minor number of small business were open because of generators. Large chains including McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts and CVS were all closed, along with “almost every gas station,” he said.

“The landscape looks a lot like what you may have seen on TV, either there or on the Jersey shore,” Bock said. “Streets, parks [and] basketball courts are covered in a layer of sand of various depths up to a few inches washed up from the beach from several or more blocks away.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency “gutted” many homes, whose parts Bock and his children saw sitting in piles on the curbs before New York Sanitation trucks came by. “When you picture this in endless blocks,” he said, “and with houses as densely packed as they are in urban beach communities you can imagine it gets mind-boggling pretty quickly.”

The Adventure Guides trip provided a different perspective for the kids, Bock said, though they might be too young to articulate it.  “I think they have a sense of doing stuff with your brother and with your dad. Making a potentially uncomfortable situation really rewarding.”

ydavydov@darientimes.com

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