In South Bronx, dozens of people sat outside of an old brick building as the smell of curry emanated from inside. Upon entering, the sounds of discontent bounced off the warehouse walls, from the bickering of the elderly to the yelps of the dogs caged in the entryway.
Far Rockaway, Queens is one of many communities still attempting to restore basic living conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. At the Franklin Avenue Women’s Shelter in the Bronx, 300 hurricane victims lined up just to eat a hot meal— something most of them have not had in weeks.
For post-Sandy refugees, life in the shelter seemed just as chaotic as it was for those left to ressurect their flooded homes.
Assemblyman Eric Stevenson organized the event on Sunday along with groups like the Bronx Turkish Cultural Center and the Bronx Pakastani community. The event came as a relief to residents, according to Stevenson.
“Before this meal, they were eating cold turkey sandwiches and PB and Js,” Stevenson said after signing an autograph for a girl with purple braids. “They were saying ‘We don’t even eat food like this at home.”
The fluorescent-lit cafeteria was packed with hungry people as volunteers served each person until the room cleared out two hours later. Volunteers served each person water and a choice of chips along with rice and noodle dishes.
Abid Muttakim from nonprofit group B.A.Y.A Aid was one of many volunteers that day.
“We donated hot food, canned food, and extra clothing if they need it,” Muttakim said. “We try to do our best, and get as much as we can for our community.”
Volunteer Wahid Sultan said that the Pakastani community from the Bronx initially went to Far Rockaway with Assembleyman Stevenson to feed 1,300 hurricane victims. Stevenson then invited those volunteers to participate in this weekend’s event.
“The Pakastani community wanted to feed these people,” Sultan said.
As the initial chaos in the cafeteria died down and people sat down to eat, Stevenson noted the change of energy in the room. Volunteers and residents sat together and chatted over lunch in a brief haitus from post-Sandy choas.
“Not only were we able to bring food, but peace of mind for people,” Stevenson said.
However, peace of mind was not the exact sentiment everyone shared that day. Far Rockaway resident and hurricane victim Nancy Diaz said that while she was grateful for the hot meal, that was the extent of her gratitude.
Originally of Cuban descent, Diaz had only been living in Far Rockaway for a few months before her home was flooded.
“My home was damaged,” Diaz said. “No electricity. There was sand and mud, and no heat.”
Directly outside of the cafeteria were rows of fold up cots, neatly packed togehter and enclosed by a 5 foot wall, seperating Sandy victims from the other 200 other residents. Diaz said that sleeping on the cot was adding to her already prevalent back problem and she was hoping to be moved to a hotel sometime within the next week. She has been living in the shelter since last Wednesday.
“It is uncomfortable here,” Diaz said. “And the men have been frustrated because there’s only one makeshift bathroom for them with one toilet, since it’s a women’s shelter.”
The hurricane victims who lost their medications in the flood had their own set of frustrations as well. Around 15 to 20 of the hurricane victims in the shelter had been dealing with finding medication for their long term illnesses, according to Assemblyman Stevenson.
“People who are diabetic can’t go to Far Rockaway and get their insulin, so what’s gonna happen?” Stevenson said.
Stevenson said that on that same day, hospitals had been contacted to bring these people the medication they needed. Many of the shelter residents had been unable to renew their prescriptions with any clinic, because their prescription had not reached its renewal period.
As the cafeteria cleared out, Diaz stood with her plastic orange lunch tray and looked out at the neatly made fold up cots. While some have managed to momentarily take shelter after the storm, the journey back home may be longer than expected.
“No one wants to stay in a shelter,” Diaz said. “I certainly don’t.”