Eddie Saman, 47, stands in the gutted shell of the Staten Island home he must live in after it was flooded by Superstorm Sandy. He is using blankets for insulation in the unheated bungalow. / Todd Plitt, USA TODAY
NEW YORK - Victims of Superstorm Sandy on Staten Island are getting some respite from the cold that hit the Northeast in the last week thanks to community efforts.
Inside a tent about a block from the Raritan Bay on Staten Island, men, women and children dressed in layers laughed under a warm glow of lights. They watched TV or ate food served from steaming aluminum containers. Some smoked cigarettes and compared notes on insurance companies. Baskets held necessities, such as hand warmers and tissues. A diesel-powered heater kept them warm.
This is the Cedar Grove Community Hub, one of three tent communities in Staten Island set up to help people displaced or otherwise affected by October's Superstorm Sandy, which killed more than 100 people, most in Queens or Staten Island. The size of a storefront, the hub operates 24 hours. While the recent cold snap disrupted the lives of most residents in the Mid-Atlantic, the people here were still struggling with the loss of homes and even neighbors. They met the bitter cold with a shrug, seeming to regard it as an inconvenience.
"Our houses were totally trashed inside," says Stephen Drimalas, 46, who dismisses a question about coping in the cold as he ate from a plate of food.
Instead, Drimalas dives into his problems since the storm. The Department of Transportation employee was repairing his home from a fire when Sandy hit. He borrowed thousands of dollars from friends to make fixes while he waits for insurance money. "Now, I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul," he says.
Drimalas is one of about 200 people who come to the tent daily to grab a meal and chat. The hub has taken Staten Island's New Dorp Beach neighborhood back in time, compelling people to connect face to face, not by iPhone. Those who work spend the hours between clocking out and bedtime at the hub, watching the news, sharing information or teasing friends.
"I used to sit on my stoop and watch them go in and out of the houses," says Lorraine Gonzalez, 38, waving her hand toward neighbors who milled about.
Gonzalez, a teacher, visited Thursday night with her daughter, Alexis, 5. Most nights, they are there with Gonzalez's husband, Larry, and other daughter, Eva. An 80-foot tree fell on their home and the roots raised the sidewalk about 4 feet, Gonzalez says, but their insurer denies liability. Meantime, they are renting an apartment and are at the hub most nights for dinner.
"As weird as it is, you're sitting in a tent the middle of the winter, but it makes you feel more normal," Gonzalez says. "It's therapeutic too. You're not just sitting at home."
The hub was launched right after the storm by Donna Graziano, who lives in Brooklyn. Graziano says she was motivated to act because of her rocky childhood spent in foster care.
"I kind of felt alone, no one to help me," says Graziano, 41. "I made myself promise back then that I would never want anyone else to feel that."
Graziano saw pictures of Sandy's damage on TV and heard that Drimalas, godfather to one of her daughters, had major damage to his home. She collected supplies and carted them to Staten Island in her Mazda. A Facebook page and media publicity helped draw donations. The hub moved from place to place until settling at its current site, a park. Now, there are four tents and a giant heater donated by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. Volunteers help keep things organized.
The locals say they appreciate it. Steve Chati was devastated after his family's home was destroyed by water. As he sat in the tent Thursday night, he recalled a bulldozer coming to clear out the contents of his house. The family received $250 from homeowner's insurance after a $1,000 deductible, he said.
"That's your furniture, your memories, your life is getting put in a Dumpster," says Chati, 43, while his daughter, Mia, 7, played nearby. "It was overwhelming. I was numb."
Eddie Saman sleeps at the hub. Unemployed, he spends most of his days working on his home, which has a huge hole in the roof. In the evenings, he is at the tent.
"Almost all the time you see me here," says Saman, 47, showing the folding cot and thick blanket that are his bed.
Graziano's mother watches her daughters, 4 and 15, when she's at the hub. Now, she has more time to spend there: She was laid off from her job at a limousine company last Monday.
As for the cold, Graziano said Staten Island residents are more concerned with the lingering effects of Sandy.
"Their focus is not really on the cold," she said, adding they want the insurance red tape behind them. "They just want it done already."
Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com
Read the original story: Still reeling from Sandy, Staten Island fights freeze