Now a resident of Crestwood, NY, and working in New York City, Vaccaro remembers living in Los Angeles when Tropical Storm Irene rolled into southern Vermont. She felt helpless as she watched CNN switch between live footage of her flooded street and the flooded streets of Wilmington. When Vaccaro returned to Brattleboro she spent a year repairing her house, and helped organize and produce Floodstock, a music festival that raised $70,000 for relief efforts.
When Sandy rolled into New York, Vaccaro, who lost power for a week, took up residence with a cousin nearby, turning her house into a command center for organizing a new relief effort. Unable to go to work in the city for days, Vaccaro signed in to Facebook and started finding those in need of help, as well as her friends in Vermont who could gather donations. Two of Vaccaro’s friends in Vermont responded in a big way.
Megan Hefner, a former Wilmington resident, who now lives in Waterbury, was the first to hear Vaccaro’s call for help and started planning a trip to Staten Island. Hefner began collecting clothing, blankets, and toiletries from her friends in the Killington, Rutland, and Burlington areas, and got a huge donation of cat, dog, and ferret food from Catamount Pet Supply in Rutland. Hefner said she was only expecting a bag or two of pet food, but ended up with a truckload.
Hefner’s friend Corey Hackett, another Waterbury resident, whose house was flooded by Tropical Storm Irene, joined the effort and after filling the bed and cab of his truck with the outpouring of donations, headed south to New York. Hackett’s experience with Tropical Storm Irene helped him jump at the opportunity to help others. “Irene was a big factor,” said Hackett. “My house had five to six feet of water in it and when it subsided the next day, it was unbelievable the number of volunteers that were coming out to help me and my neighbors, and it was like that for months. When I saw the footage of Sandy I knew they would really appreciate help, too.”
Hackett said helping Sandy’s victims was his way of saying thank you to the volunteers who came to help him.
When Hackett and Hefner got to New York they headed straight for Staten Island and an organization called Rebuild Staten Island, which had opened an old hospital building to house the homeless and their pets. Hackett, Vaccaro, and Hefner handed out blankets and food, and located a Red Cross station where they could deliver clothing. “What was really amazing was, I’m a New Yorker, and things like this do not happen here,” said Vaccaro. “There was a look of desperation on everyone’s faces, and there were folks who wouldn’t leave their neighborhoods because they were afraid of leaving the only thing they had left. But the look of appreciation was there too when they saw us drive by and stop to help.”
Only three weeks had passed since the hurricane and Hackett and Hefner decided to spend time working on the still untouched houses in the Milton Beach area of Staten Island. Hefner said the scope of damage to the neighborhood was astounding. “Life looked normal on the main streets, but when we turned down a side street, that’s where you saw the devastation,” said Hefner. “Houses everywhere were torn apart and ripped off their foundations.” Hackett and Hefner were given demolition tools and assigned a house to rip out sheetrock and insulation so it could be dried out and salvaged. The house had been so damaged that they were not allowed to enter the basement because of mold.
Vaccaro said that with the arrival of winter, more tough times are ahead for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and any help sent in the form of clothing, pet food, and blankets, is still badly needed for those without a home this winter. Hackett says as far as the massive scope of rebuilding neighborhoods goes, volunteers will be needed for a long time to come.