About four months prior to Super Storm Sandy, Maureen a single mother of two children had just finished paying off her Lindenhurst home. Looking back, she sighs, “Nothing’s happened to me since I've been here…28 years, and now all of a sudden I took in 4 foot of water. I lost clothes, furniture, everything in my garage, Christmas lights, everything that you could possibly think of I've lost.” Maureen did not even realize the impact until weeks later when reality set in and all the things she valued and cherished needed to be replaced. Soon after she found herself in financial hardship.
The process began. She reached out to every disaster recovery resource available through calls, emails, visits and then, help began to trickle in. Maureen recalls coverage would only include, fixing her large utilities not replacing them. But with a bottom oven drawer filled with salt water, she knew that this was not the answer.
In the beginning she felt there was some progress, “I was put into the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power (STEP) program and for two years I stayed here waiting… I was sleeping on the floor upstairs. I had no walls, no nothing.” She added, “Finally, my ex-husband, he came in and did like the sheet rock for the rooms at least. I had one chair, a TV and no kitchen… I've pretty much been living that way for the past six years.”
Maureen was directed in and out of a variety of funding programs. She explains, “They first put me in a program where they told me to pick my own construction guy, which I did.” She paid him the entire amount prior to the job, because she felt the funds were secure with him. After two weeks of work he disappeared, and never returned…neither did the money. This mishap was followed by more misfortune from the next company… after completion of all of the pre-construction, including attaining all the building permits, about a month later the workers who were going to do the job left the business... Maureen once again had a monetary loss.
Her dilemmas continued, as she was admitted to program where her home was going to be rebuilt. But this would not happen until she paid back the $60,000 she lost on the two contractors. Maureen notes, “I applied for a home equity loan, they came and they took a walk around the house, and because I didn't have the kitchen and shingles were ripped off the front windows, they refused to give me that loan.” She added, “A month and a half ago, I was told that my house was going to be lifted and all these contractors would be calling me… not one person has called me.”
Without a kitchen, Maureen has to wash dishes in her bathroom sink or the bathroom tub. Makeshift cooking includes a coffee maker, a microwave and a barbecue grill. She is grateful for her son’s help, “He barbecues spaghetti on the grill. I don't know how he does that, but he does it. We've learned to survive, but it's no way to live. My daughter, she's been with a friend for six years now, she hasn't been home. Pretty much, my son and me have been camping here.”
Maureen anticipated another cold winter, “Every year I've had bronchitis, this house is so cold I actually had snow underneath the doorway. Without having the kitchen insulated obviously, you can see the floor, the floor wasn't done. And I had nothing covering underneath and it was just, the cold air was coming up. So even though the heat was on, it was freezing in here. There were nights I went to sleep with four pairs of pajamas on.
For Maureen, It’s been years of frustration and after learning of her many attempt to repair her kitchen, United Way of Long Island is stepping in to make her house a home again with disaster relief funding coming from the Robin Hood Foundation.
Maureen was relieved when she found out she was getting help, “They’re pretty much giving me a brand new kitchen. They are going to design it as modern, so it's going to look beautiful in the end. I just can't wait. I really I just can't wait.”
Now that the remodeling is nearly complete, Maureen is looking forward to a bright future with her family, “I'm so grateful for United Way of Long Island for reaching out and offering to do this for me. This will be the first year I'll be able to cook for my children on Thanksgiving, and have Christmas. I don't even know how to say the words to thank you for helping me out.”
Maureen has been busy preparing her kitchen to make her first family dinner in six years. She reflects on her most recent good fortune, “I’ve been a Suffolk County Park police officer for 21 years. I was on the job for two years before 9/11 changed our lives in 2001. I tried to save lives and that's basically what we do. I think life comes full circle because the things we do for others somehow comes back to you. God blessed me that I'm still here, and my health gets a little bit better. I really believe in like life does come full circle and I am so grateful.”
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United Way of Long Island is grateful for the generous investment the Robin Hood Foundation has made to respond to the needs of financially fragile families across the region who have been impacted by Super Storm Sandy. Grant support has provided needed assistance for hundreds of lower-income and working class families helping them to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives by replacing home contents, home appliances and repairing homes through construction activities.