Alumni, staff help rebuild town hit by Hurricane Sandy

Tom Fox
Volunteers remove debris from a Breezy Point home June 15.

NEW YORK – In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy directed special wrath on Breezy Point, Queens, N.Y., destroying more than 400 homes with its estimated 12-foot surge. On June 15, 65 Cornellians pitched in to remove debris, build houses and create planters for recently returned senior citizens and veterans.

The group, including alumni, 4-H members and staff from Cornell University Cooperative Extension-NYC (CUCE-NYC) and the Cornell Office of Alumni Affairs-Metro NY, demolished tiles, shoveled sand, installed sheet rock, painted and planted window boxes. Fewer than 500 families have returned to homes.

“Although the devastation is at times overwhelming for all of us who live here, this is a resilient community, and we continue to find feasible ways to aid in the recovery from the destruction and related challenges,” said Breezy Point resident Gretchen Ferenz, a CUCE-NYC senior extension associate. “We have been fortunate to have many volunteers lending their support from across the country, including Cornell alumni.”

Added Jim Killoran, director of Habitat for Humanity of Westchester County who has been spearheading home rebuilding on Breezy Point: “We have had 7,000 volunteers, and Cornell’s efforts exemplified how service can help be a real solution to a disaster recovery. If every university does what Cornell did, we will get many families back in quickly. Habitat of Westchester is grateful for the Big Red spirit of love shown today.”

“It was the enthusiasm and good cheer of the alumni that truly made this a brilliant service event. … It is moments like these that make me so proud to be a Cornellian,” said Peggy Tsue ’01, volunteerco-coordinator.

CUCE-NYC plans another service event this fall when Cornell volunteers will distribute and plant 300 trees. More than $2,500 worth of supplies and other needs were donated. Donors included Don Sussman ’76, president of Stop & Shop, N.Y. metro district; Stop & Shop of Arverne, Queens; CUCE-NYC; Home Depot (Hamilton Avenue); Lowes (2nd Avenue) in Brooklyn; and Habitat for Humanity.

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Joe Schwartz