The directors of South Fork libraries that hosted and served thousands of residents rendered bereft of electricity, heat, and Internet access after Hurricane Sandy were surprised and delighted by news received last week.
Last Thursday, Alec Baldwin, the actor and Amagansett resident, announced that the foundation that bears his name would redirect funding from its usual recipients — artists and the arts — to local libraries.
Taking to Twitter, Mr. Baldwin sent a series of messages. “My foundation is diverting arts-related funding 2 Sandy relief. The first recipients are libraries in East Hampton, Montauk, Amagansett, and Sag Harbor” was transmitted over two “tweets,” such messages being limited to 140 characters. In all, “we will send $250,000 to these institutions.”
The move, Mr. Baldwin told The East Hampton Star, was inspired by a letter he received from Catherine Creedon, director of the John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor. Ms. Creedon, said Mr. Baldwin, “contacted me with a lovely letter in which she said, ‘Nearly everyone in the town passed through the doors of the library in the ensuing week after the storm.’ That was the beginning of examining, for me, these community hubs — libraries, in this case — that were in areas hit.”
“I wanted to thank Mr. Baldwin for his support for libraries, for what he and donors like him do,” Ms. Creedon said of her letter. “It’s an awesome, awesome gift, particularly because by donating across East Hampton Town he’s really strengthened the library system for the whole community.”
Mr. Baldwin, who reported that the storm felled just one tree on his property, appears in television commercials for Capital One Bank and funnels the proceeds through his foundation. “My whole thing with Capital One was to give all the money to arts, but in the wake of the storm decided to give it to her,” he said of Ms. Creedon. “One concern was food, fuel, housing, medicine, health care, transportation, and I knew many agencies would take care of that. So I gave the donation to Amagansett, Montauk, and Sag Harbor, and then a large donation to East Hampton — I work with them during the year.”
Mr. Baldwin has been a supporter of the East Hampton Library for several years, Dennis Fabiszak, the library’s director, said, “both in his time and financially. We are really happy that he has decided to use the Capital One money to recognize the important roles that libraries played in response to the hurricane.”
Capital One, said Mr. Fabiszak, donates money in conjunction with and in addition to what it pays Mr. Baldwin for appearing in the ads. “The last time he talked to me about it, something like $9 million has been donated. It’s wonderful that he is able to do that.”
“We are absolutely thrilled,” Cynthia Young, director of the Amagansett Library, said of the donation. “It could not come at a better time.”
Karen Rade, director of the Montauk Library, had been unaware of the Alec Baldwin Foundation. “It was really wonderful to find out how proactive he is,” she said. “This donation is something we’re very excited about, and we’re very pleased to be included. It’s a wonderful thing he’s done for us.”
Mr. Baldwin’s donation will be appropriated to the restoration and expansion project at John Jermain, said Ms. Creedon. The library, which is in a temporary location on West Water Street, was without electricity for a few days after the storm, she said, but held children’s story events and had games available, “and we hand-checked-out books and DVDs until it was literally too dark to see in the building.”
Ms. Creedon said library officials are also interested in adding technology that would enable hearing-impaired and visually impaired people to take fuller advantage of the library’s offerings, and for those using the library to search for jobs.
The East Hampton Library, which is also undergoing an expansion, will appropriate the donation to its capital campaign, said Mr. Fabiszak. The expansion, he said, “is really going to expand on the services we provided the week after the storm, and what we provide all year round.”
On Oct. 31, day the library reopened, 1,400 people visited, Mr. Fabiszak said. Residents with no electricity, telephone, or Internet service packed the library and took the opportunity to get online and charge digital devices such as cellphones and tablets.
Observations made in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and, in 2011, Hurricane Irene have generated many ideas with regard to future extreme-weather events, he said. “We reached out to the public and got some great feedback. Part of this money will go to putting things in place that will help meet those needs.”
These ideas, said Mr. Fabiszak, include adding a television on which local news and the Weather Channel could provide information and updates. Another, he said, was to establish a location at the library where residents who are less affected by a storm could take items they are willing to share with others, “so that, the day the building is open, that’s available for people to take things and for people to drop things off.”
Yet another idea was for the Red Cross and other relief organizations to provide food and essential services at the library. “A lot of people were here because they had no electric. The Red Cross was feeding people at the high school, so they were leaving their phones here to charge while running over there to get a sandwich.” A better course, he suggested, might be to shift some of the supplies to where people are congregating — the library — rather than concentrating them in one place.
The Montauk Library’s board members had not yet met to consider use of the donation, Ms. Rade said. “But when I was talking with Mr. Baldwin, he was talking about the services we provided when we got our power back — everyone was plugging in their iPads and phones and getting in touch with relatives and friends. That’s something I will be looking into.”
Though Ms. Young had not yet met with the Amagansett Library’s board, her hope is that some of the donation would go toward new digital devices such as tablets and e-readers, “so the staff is ready to help our patrons use all of these new devices after the holidays. And, of course, the library will purchase additional charging stations to be ready for the next big power outage. The library wants to help the community keep in touch with families and friends.”
Mr. Baldwin’s foundation also made a $250,000 contribution to the Mill Creek Community Center in Stafford Township, N.J., and the actor told The Star that he would donate to a similar facility in his hometown, Massapequa, which also experienced extensive damage. The center in Stafford Township was damaged to the point that it will have to be torn down and rebuilt.
“We were looking for a New Jersey-based group that fit into that mold,” Mr. Baldwin said. “Governor [Chris] Christie’s office helped point us to that one.”