For three days, West Hempstead High School served as a safe haven for up to 40 local residents who had to evacuate their homes or lost power because of Hurricane Sandy.
The high school was a designated kosher evacuation shelter operated by the American Red Cross, but when the hurricane made landfall Monday night it knocked out power to the school, which had been operating off a single generator for the past three days.
When Patch stepped inside the high school Wednesday, the only light in the long hallway leading to the gym, where beds were set up, and the cafeteria, was coming from a small bulb hanging overhead. We couldn't go inside the area where evacuees were staying, but were told that there were more than two dozen people there and 15 volunteers who were working tirelessly to make sure everyone was taken care of.
Paula Foster, of Long Beach, was among the evacuees staying at the shelter. She had been in the hospital when she learned that Hurricane Sandy was heading toward the East Coast, but wasn't permitted to return to her home in the West End because of the mandatory evacuation order. That meant she couldn't event gather clothes or any of her personal possessions.
This was the first time that Foster, a 33-year Long Beach resident, was not inside her home when a natural diaster struck the city.
"In 1993, the bay met the beach and I lost two homes," she told Patch Monday morning. She was inside her home when Tropical Storm Irene struck in August 2011 and recalls her glass windows shattering. "My legs were all cut up," she added.
Although she was concerned about what toll Sandy would take on her current home, she said this of the care she was receiving at the West Hempstead shelter: "I'm grateful."
However, since the shelter was lacking power, the American Red Cross decided to send additional evacuees to other larger locations that had full electric, and Wednesday night they began moving the families that were staying there too. Many were sent to the Red Cross Shelter in Manhasset.
On Thursday morning, the American Red Cross officially shut down the shelter at West Hempstead and relocated the few people remaining there to other facilities.
"We were pleased to be able to assist the Red Cross these past few days in helping our neighbors in need of shelter," West Hempstead Schools Superintendent John Hogan told Patch. "On another matter, we are beginning to work on coordinating a relief effort for our neighbors in Island Park and elsewhere who have been so terribly affected by the storm."
West Hempstead High School will be opening up Friday and Saturday for a food and supplies drive. Principal Dan Rehman, Board of Education Vice President Karen Brohm and PTSA President Loraine Magaraci are spearheading the effort.
The District is encouraging everyone who can to donate to those in need. They are looking for nonperishable food that does not require cooking, clothes and blankets. Donations can be brought to the front entrance of West Hempstead High School between the hours of noon and 4 p.m. on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. The supplies will be distributed to families from the West Hempstead School District, including those in Island Park, and surrounding areas if necessary.
Since many Long Islanders do not have power, email access is limited email, and cell and text service is patchy, the district asks community members to "please spread the word as best as you can."