It could be a very chilly Thanksgiving for tens of thousands of East Coast residents still without power nearly a month after Superstorm Sandy made landfall.
As of Tuesday, the numbers were staggering: 18,095 in Long Island are powerless; 2,170 in New York City; 14,000 in New Jersey.
Power companies say in most cases they’ve restored the power grids, but individual customers now need to get electricians to come in and do the final repair work. In the meantime, what will Thanksgiving look like this year as the night temperatures dip into the 30s?
The vast network of Sandy relief organizations are working to make sure this Thanksgiving is as normal—or at least neighborly—as possible.
From Bergen County to Breezy Point to the East Village, organizations and volunteers are spreading the word through Facebook posts and flyers inviting anyone affected by Sandy to a Thanksgiving dinner.
Jennifer Kaufman, 47, of Washington Township in New Jersey, has connected more than 400 people willing to host those displaced by Sandy for a Thanksgiving dinner in their homes through her project, A Thanksgiving Table Share.
Sandy was personal for Kaufman. “My daughter moved into her house in Brick, New Jersey, in August. She had just finished painting the last room of the house when Sandy hit.” Kaufman’s daughter, Lily, evacuated ahead of the storm with her husband, but her home was damaged. “I couldn’t get to her because of the gas crisis,” Kaufman says. “I had all this nervous energy—she was my impetus for starting the Table Share.”
Kaufman rode her Vespa to hard-hit parts of New Jersey to help clean houses and deliver food, but she was still restless. “I was home and thinking about how to help,” she says, “I was thinking about my own Thanksgiving and wondering what all these people were going to do without homes or families.”
Kaufman decided if she was willing to take in people affected by Sandy for Thanksgiving dinner, plenty of other people would be, too. She was right: More than 1,500 people have signed up to host or be hosted via the Table Share’s Facebook page.
Others have offered to deliver turkeys or entire Thanksgiving meals to those in need, Kaufman says. “There have been people who said they suffered from Sandy but were still willing to cook a turkey for others while dealing with their own loss. That sort of restored my faith in humankind,” she says.
The Kaufman Thanksgiving will look different this year. One of the Sandy refugees she’s hosting is a vegan, for example. “I will be doing some adjusting to my cooking,” she says.
Other Thanksgiving events planned by the many branches of Sandy relief organizations that have sprung up in the last few weeks include a dinner in Coney Island organized by Occupy Sandy, meals throughout New Jersey organized by a local business called Marvel Management, and a dinner in St. Mark’s Church in the East Village.
Julie Otero, 25, has spent the last week organizing a meal for hundreds of people from the Rockaways, including refugees from Breezy Point, where some 100 homes were burned to the ground in an electrical fire during Sandy.
Otero grew up in nearby Mill Basin, but has spent the last decade working at a beach club in Belle Harbor. “It’s pretty much destroyed,” she says. “My house in Mill Basin is still up but I lost my whole bedroom. There was six feet of water in my bedroom.”
Otero has been going to Belle Harbor and Breezy Point daily since the storm to deliver food and supplies. “We figured there were so many people who wanted to do something for Thanksgiving; we wanted to take charge,” she says.
So Otero, her sister and a friend reserved the gym at a local school in Belle Harbor for a Thanksgiving Day meal. “We were worried we wouldn’t have enough people,” she says, “but now we have 375 people confirmed, and are expecting about 500.”
Dozens of local restaurants and businesses have donated food and money for the dinner, which will host, among many others, residents of destroyed Breezy Point who have not been allowed to return to their neighborhood since the storm.
“We have a crazy amount of families donating food,” Otero says, “I have people calling me from New Mexico that used to live in Belle Harbor, asking me how they can help.”
But the holiday season is just beginning. “I’m sure we’ll do something around the December holidays,” says Otero, who is also planning to collect money for specific families who lost their homes during Sandy, to be delivered on Christmas Day.
“We’re going to be carrying this through the holidays,” says Kaufman of the Table Share.
“My motto at this point is ‘no one should be alone.’”