By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Tom House
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, as is tradition, the Bridgehampton School community came together for its annual Thanksgiving feast, breaking bread at the community house. The next morning, 25 students and seven teachers, in the true spirit of the holiday, gathered at the school and headed west to East Rockaway where they spent the day delivering supplies, cleaning debris out of flooded homes and breaking down rotted walls for those less fortunate when it came to the devastation Hurricane Sandy wrought on the region in late October.
According to librarian David Holmes, who helped organize the trip with Bridgehampton basketball coach Carl Johnson, the decision to go to East Rockaway was almost immediately felt after the school returned to session after Hurricane Sandy.
“I just felt helpless for them and an incredible need to do something,” said Holmes on Wednesday.
Within a week of the storm, Holmes approached Bridgehampton School principal Jack Pryor, who had already had Johnson talk to him about a school-organized relief project.
“We put it out there to everyone and within a day we had a volunteer base of 25 kids and seven faculty or staff members ready to go.
“I remember thinking, of course I had to go,” said English teacher Tom House. “It felt like the right way to spend the first day of our Thanksgiving vacation.”
According to Pryor, the school chose to go to East Rockaway, in part, because of the connection the two schools have. Both are Class D schools in athletics, and have played each other often on the basketball court.
“So we have had a relationship with them and when it came to deciding where we should help, it was an obvious choice,” said Pryor.
He added students jumped at the chance to offer a helping hand.
The busload of volunteers headed to Bay Park, hit hard with heavy flooding that wiped out basements and flooded most homes up to four-and-a-half feet of water on the first floor, said House.
According to Holmes, the busload of students showed up in East Rockaway ready to deliver supplies. They were told what was critically needed was manpower.
“When the bus pulled up, someone said, ‘We need people in this house and that house’,” he said. “A woman kept trying to pay us and we told her she didn’t need to and she just burst into tears. They were touched we were there and that was overwhelming, intense.”
Teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz had relatives in Bay Park who helped direct students to areas of particular need. They focused on three individual homes and the Bay Park Civic Center.
“People were coming out of their houses and crying, thanking them,” said Pryor. “A lot of people said they didn’t even know where to begin in the cleanup process, because it was so much. These kids helped give them a good start.”
In the residences, students helped remove furniture, appliances, memorabilia, also breaking down sheetrock and insulation.
They also worked at the civic center, breaking apart a ramp and staircase ravaged by the storm. They also helped remove soggy office supplies.
“That was what was needed,” said House. “There were donations of clothing, food, but they really just needed people to help them clean up their houses, get rid of this sheetrock. One family had already gutted their basement and so we carried new sheetrock into the basement to help them rebuild.”
Holmes planned to return to East Rockaway on his own and continue relief work. He said he and Johnson were also discussing another school-sanctioned trip.
“When we left, I remember looking back and thinking there is so much more to do,” he said. “It was still like a ghost town.”