The desire to help after witnessing the destruction that Hurricane Sandy wrought and the incredible losses that families suffered has birthed a new relief group based in Southampton.
Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund was started by Romi Sloan, of Southampton, and Kym Smith, of East Quogue, to bring help to hard hit areas of Long Island, Staten Island and elsewhere. And that help comes in many forms, including donations of cash, supplies, furniture — and hands-on labor.
In an interview Wednesday, Smith explained that the weekend after the storm hit Long Island, Sloan, who owns Gardens by Romi in Southampton, brought her staff to Babylon to gut a friend's house that was wrecked in the storm. "Her house was just a shell after the storm,” said Smith, who is among Sloan's employees.
It was very emotional experience, helping to clean up a house where a family had all of its belongings destroyed, Smith said.
It strengthened their resolve and fortified their desire to help, giving rise to Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund.
They broadened their efforts to help on Staten Island, where they felt the level of need was not being addressed. “All of the media coverage was covering so many other places, and we didn’t see much in Staten Island,” Smith said.
On several occasions now, they have headed to the island and searched for someone who could use a hand.
“We adopt a family every time we’re there and we do everything we need to do,” Smith said. Mostly, that has involved a team helping to gut storm ravaged homes.
"Most of the work in Staten Island as far as gutting houses is done," said Smith, who was back there on Tuesday. "Now, it's mostly keeping people keep warm and keeping people healthy, because of the mold that is forming.”
The group has also visited Mastic Beach and Sayville, which were also hard hit.
Over the last couple weeks, Smith said, they have learned that many people are not receiving help from insurance companies or FEMA. She said Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund doesn't have any red tape, and can get people the help they need as soon as possible.
Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund has helped Sandy victims obtain furniture, food, clothing, space heaters and construction work — and whatever other requests they are called upon for.
For example, Smith said that during the storm one victim lost his CPAP machine, a device that aids his breathing so he can sleep lying down. After weeks he still hadn't received a replacement from his insurance company, but when Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund was contacted it only took a few hours and a few phone calls to find someone with a spare machine they were happy to give away.
And recently, the relief fund made sure that a little boy would have a cake on his birthday, she said.
Through Facebook, networking and local friends, Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund has been able to make great strides in helping people, Smith said. “It’s been the longest month of my life, but probably the most amazing. It's been fantastic meeting all these people.”
According to Smith, the volunteers pay for their own expenses, such as gas, out of their own pockets. All money that is donated goes toward making purchases for the victims.
Several items and services have been offered to Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund as raffle prizes to encourage cash donations. The donations are raffled off through the relief fund's Facebook page. Artwork, garden plantings, facials, personal training and chiropractic care are among the raffle prizes.
Events are lined up as well.
Renaissance Boutique in Southampton Village will donate 5 percent of sales to the relief fund during a holiday shopping event on Dec. 5 between 5 and 8 p.m.
Then on Dec. 15 from noon to 2:30 p.m., Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund has teamed up with Matthew's Wish for a toy collection drive in Amagansett, called "Santa at the Square."
Smith said Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund is in it for the long haul, to help families rebuild their lives. "I have a place to rest my head at night," she said. "I can’t rest my head comfortably knowing that other people don’t."
For more information, visit Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund on Facebook.