QUEENS — With memories of downed trees and flooded basements still fresh in their minds from a series of summer rainstorms, Forest Hills residents are opening their hearts to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
People, businesses and groups from around the neighborhood have been giving gifts of baby supplies, food, money, clothing and shoes in the wake of last week's deadly storm.
The goodwill is literally stopping local politicians in their tracks. On her way to Nov. 5 kick-off event for a clothing drive that her office is holding, city Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz said that she was repeatedly halted by residents looking to help.
"It took much longer to walk here because people were stopping me on the street asking where they could donate," said Koslowitz, who added that her office has already received a donation of $1,000 worth of diapers.
Assemblywoman Grace Meng, attending the press event along with State Senator Toby Stavisky, said that her office and those of other city officials are receiving similar outpourings. "We're getting requests that they have items to donate, where should they bring it, how should they bring it," said Meng.
Forest Hills residents are familiar with the damage that nature can cause; the area was hit hard by a tornado in 2010, and severe rainstorms flooded homes and businesses in the neighborhood this summer. Forest Hills escaped the brunt of last week's hurricane, but residents realize that they are lucky.
"We were fine," said Kitti Fisher-Borgatti, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at P.S. 196 Grand Central Parkway School, which held a bake sale for storm victims on Election Day. "The worst we had was just a couple of glitches on our TV. That was nothing; it certainly was nothing like the micro burst we had two years ago."
The bake sale was a giant success. While returns are meager on most non-election years—Fisher-Borgatti said that the PTA raised $88 last year—this year's bake sale raised over $2,550.
"One woman wrote a check for $100 and another person handed the children a hundred-dollar bill and told them to keep it," Fisher-Borgatti said via email. The proceeds of the sale will be donated to P.S. 104 in Far Rockaway; with half of the money going to the school and the other half going to families.
Natasha Persaud, 29, owner of Unique Creations, a boutique on Austin Street that, along with nearby boutique Blue Elephant, is donating 100 pairs of shoes to storm victims. She said that the summer's flooding, which flooded her basement and damaged much of her inventory, made her expect the worst from Sandy.
"Forest Hills did get lucky. We're open for business and things are pretty normal here," she said. "I thought I would come back to store that wasn't here or that all of our merchandise would be lost. But we were really lucky because nothing happened to the store. It was like brand new when we came here."
The charity continues around the neighborhood.
Aimee Salon, located at 76-21 Austin St., is also holding a clothing drive. And Park Lane North, an apartment building on Union Turnpike, received a massive amount of food and clothing for their drive. Nick Pescetto, the building's superintendent, showed a room in the building's basement that was filled with bags of donated clothing.
"We have a lot of donations," said Pescetto as he showed off a room that was packed with bags of donated clothing. "One woman donated $500 in batteries."
Koslowitz said that her donation drive will continue for as long as needed, and Pescetto said that Park Lane North will continue to accept donations for as long as the neighborhood turns them in. Given the way that Forest Hills residents are familiar with destruction; it appears that will be a while.
"We know a lot of people have lost everything. It's cold out there," said Persaud. "I know that if I lost everything I'd want a warm coat and warm boots. We want people to get back to normal."