It started small.
Mike Di Giglio, a Rockaway native, wanted to bring some supplies down to his family, who had lost one house and seen damage to another after Hurricane Sandy, so he posted something to his Facebook page reaching out for donations and looking to fill up his Jeep.
By the next day, the living room and dining room of his Liverpool home were so full of donations that he and his wife, Melanie, couldn’t walk through the rooms.
Di Giglio, realizing he was onto something, reached out to his friends and Verizon co-workers, Brian Borchik, Don Locke and Jim Dunn. Together, they created a page called Operation Sandy Relief on Monday, Nov. 5, with the goal of collecting more goods to take down later in the week. By Friday, Nov. 9, when volunteers loaded up a rented truck (offered at a discount from Ryder) and left for Rockaway, the Di Giglios’ house was again so full they couldn’t clear a path. The Operation Sandy Relief page has almost 400 likes, and more trips to the New York area are planned for the future.
“So many people have seen what’s going on, and so many people know someone who’s down there and going through it, and I think it gives them a personal connection,” Borchik said. “Everybody that hears about it, no question, they want to help.”
Since the Facebook page went up, the donations have poured in. In just four days, the community has offered up everything from clothing to canned goods to sleeping bags. Donations included a brand-new-in-the-box stroller, a $500 generator and more.
And it’s not just individuals and families. Corporate donations have poured in, as well.
“[Cosco] donated cookies today — a thousand cookies,” Borchik said. “Sysco donated about 40 cases of food and they gave us cost on everything else we bought. Mazzye’s Meat Market helped us out. Empower Federal Credit Union gave us $1,000. Terell’s Potato Chips. CWA 1114 and 1152, 1123, which is what we’re all members of. The list of companies that donate is just gigantic. Every time I walk in here, there’s more stuff. Company called Bimbo Bakeries, they make all the bread for Freihofer’s, Price Chopper, Wal-Mart — that was a connection through someone I’ve never even met. We called them up and we went there today. The whole front of this truck is loaded up with bread, rolls, snack cakes. We just went to pick up the rolls — 2,500 rolls — and the lady says, ‘That whole wall, you can take it all.’”
Even companies who generally don’t contribute to charitable causes have made an exception in this case. Hoffmann’s Hot Dogs, whose company policy is that they don’t donate to anything, gave Operation Sandy Relief 2,000 hot dogs.
In addition to handing out supplies to those in need, the Operation Sandy Relief team also hosted a cookout on Saturday to provide a little break for those who’ve been working so hard to clean up in the hurricane’s hardest-hit area.
“The cookout was an idea that me and Mike came up with in a parking lot up on Moyers Corners the other day,” Borchik said. “I said, ‘You know, we should cook for them,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’ Five minutes later, he texted me, ‘We definitely need to do that.’”
The cookout, held in front of a police station and next to a FEMA station, ultimately served about 5,000 people.
“This is for whoever — it’s for utility workers, it’s for first responders, it’s for the victims,” Borchik said. “We’re just going to bust out grills and start cooking. We’re going to be walking up and down the street, and if people can’t get out of their houses, we’re going to hand-deliver it.”
Borchik and his fellow volunteers are still amazed that “what started out as two guys talking,” as he put it, has evolved into such a tremendous outpouring of support for a community in need.
“Every time we look at everything we got, we say, ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’” he said. “People just pull up. From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., there’s always someone dropping something off, every single minute. It’s amazing. Cazenovia College and LeMoyne College have just stepped up and started collecting donations for us. A friend of mine just sent me a text that Fulton-Montgomery Community College is sending out our Operation Sandy link to everybody in their school to see how they can help. It’s just unreal.”
For more information or to see how you can help, visit Facebook.com/#!/OperationSandyRelief. While there will certainly be more trips in the near future, the dates have not yet been planned.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.