Officer Matthew Youssef rapped several times on the glass door of a darkened single-family home in Howard Beach, Queens, on Monday afternoon before cracking it slightly and leaning inside.
“Anyone home?” he called out.
“Downstairs!” a man’s voice responded.
He and another officer, Santo Collardo, entered and descended into a wrecked basement to find out what food, water or other supplies the man, a 59-year-old school bus driver named Richard Eaton, might need.
The officers were a small part of a sprawling relief effort joined by the New York Police Department to assist those still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, bringing food to corners of the city without power and going door to door to inform residents huddled in their homes of the relief supplies nearby.
Deputy Inspector James Klein, directing the department’s effort from a parking lot at Aqueduct Racetrack in South Ozone Park, Queens, said the donations had poured in. By 2:30 p.m. Monday, he said, the police there had loaded two panel trucks, 10 police vans and a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus full of supplies, including boxes of Cheerios, blankets and cleaning supplies.
“Transportation is at a premium – sometimes we have to use our imagination,” Inspector Klein said.
Among the items most in demand a week after the storm hit, he said, were garbage bags and baby diapers as well as items that might not seem as obvious, such as garden hoses and dehumidifiers. “For getting the moisture out of homes,” he said.
That afternoon, Officers Youssef and Collardo were part of a group sent to the desolate corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and 164th Avenue near a Staples store. There, they popped out the legs on a small gray table and began stacking boxes of baby food, dog snacks and water among myriad other items – matzos, milk – across from the boarded-up hulk of a 7-Eleven store and a pizza parlor, where green graffiti read, “We are open OPEN.”
No sooner had the officers arrived on the corner, with no power to light the signals and not a pedestrian in sight, than residents began to emerge.
“Ma’am, do you need water?”
“Yes,” said Concetta Napolitano, 68, emerging from a black Mercedes with her husband, Neil. She said they had no power in their home nearby since the storm and had lost one car. She left with sterile cleaning wipes, a big bottle of water and a large package of Q-tips.
Another man, Santo Bonnano, also took water as well as two boxes of cereal and some dog food for the miniature schnauzer that he said had become the family’s only source of heat in their bone-cold home.
As in other hard-hit neighborhood, residents were attempting to keep up with life’s routines.
“I worked today,” said Mr. Eaton, the school bus driver. But, he added, “most of the kids weren’t going to school today.” A yellow minibus that he drove to public schools around the Upper West Side that morning sat in his driveway. He said the storm had destroyed three of his cars and a school bus.
A water line could be seen on a Pontiac parked across the street; it stopped just below the door handles.
Like many New Yorkers, members of the Police Department have faced their own storm-related hardships. Some are still without power or struggling to repair heavily damaged homes. The department has said the homes of more than 500 officers sustained “catastrophic damage” from the storm.
Five police unions, representing patrolmen up to captains, announced the creation of a fund to assist officers directly affected by the storm, a number they put at 1,500 officers. “They’ve lost the clothes off their backs” in some cases, said Roy T. Richter, president of the Captain’s Endowment Association. “And they still got to go to work.”
But among those coordinating relief, there were few complaints about the long hours or the difficulties they faced once home.
“Everybody’s got a story,” Inspector Klein said. “That’s what drives them to do what they’re doing.”
— J. DAVID GOODMAN