Muscle, Heart, and Holiday Spirit

Montauk Rugby Club lends brawn and skills in Sandy-ravaged Rockaways
Coach Rich Brierley, far left, and players Nicholas Lawler, Ryan Borowsky, and Nick Finazzo stopped by the home of Melissa Ann Mitchell, at right, to pick up letters of support for residents of the Rockaways. Carrie Ann Salvi

    With arms ready to work and full of letters of care and concern, 10 members of the Montauk Rugby Football Club took a road trip to the Rockaways on Saturday to provide physical labor and emotional support to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
    The players began their trip on Friday night with a stop for work gloves donated by Emporium Hardware in Sag Harbor, another for protective masks, and a visit to Melissa Ann Mitchell’s house in Sag Harbor, where cards and letters to Rockaway residents awaited.
    Written mainly by schoolchildren from Montauk to Southampton, they included messages such as “I hope you found whtvr you lost,” or “I hope you have electricity” illustrated with a hand-drawn, brightly colored yellow house.
    Nick Finazzo of Montauk, acting leader of the pack of players, organized the logistics of Saturday’s trip. With a caravan of committed volunteers, he reaped the benefits of gratitude immediately upon their early morning arrival.
    Taking direction from Rockaway Wish volunteers at a check-in at the Belle Harbor Yacht Club, the men were given a list of houses that needed attention.
    Not to waste manpower, Mr. Finazzo decided that “three general contractors and a physical therapist” could handle replacing the basement stairs, which did not survive the floor-to-ceiling flooding caused by the storm surge.
    He directed the others to the next house, gutting the walls of a first-level living and dining room. The homeowners had lost everything in their basement, too, including carpeting, an entertainment center, electrical panel and wiring, and family memorabilia. At a third house, the group worked together to remove moldy paneling, insulation, and destroyed kitchen appliances.
     While delivering letters, the players met residents like Jackie Cashen. Pointing at the water line on the exterior of her front porch, she remembered watching the next block of houses burn to the ground from her third floor and wondering where the wind would take the fire next.
    There has been an “outpouring of generosity and hard work” in Sandy’s aftermath, she said, with busloads of people arriving from Long Island, New York, and even other states to offer invaluable help.
    With visible damage now cleared from many houses and streets, residents need simple items like vitamins, Ms. Cashen said. “They lost it all.” The donations and supplies volunteers have brought saved people so much money, she said.
    “The worst is over,” said Joseph Munson, her neighbor, who explained that the sand was piled five feet high in the middle of the street. With no heat or electricity for close to a month, he was nevertheless grateful that he had gas to boil bathing water.
    With a glimpse of the ocean on the mild sunny day, to Mr. Finazzo, a teacher assistant at the Amagansett School, it almost felt like home, except for the destroyed houses that lined the duneless coastline and a boardwalk that protruded from the sand.
    At a holiday party in a warming tent adjacent to the St. Frances de Sales Church, “Happy Christmas” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono was playing, Santa Claus was on hand, and there was food. The rugby players handed residents inside a glittered card made by a child, bringing one recipient to tears.
    Messages of love and hope have been sent from all over the world through Love Letters for Long Island, a letter writing campaign taken on by Ms. Mitchell’s company, Ruby Marketing Group, at the suggestion of Kathryn Perry, a member of East End Cares who had heard of a similar effort, moreloveletters.com.
    “What pains us trains us,” read one card, sent to a random person in need. The notes are placed inside open car windows, in mailboxes, on front porches, and slid beneath doors as a way of unexpectedly touching people with “love, support, and compassion.”
    At dusk, the players checked back in at the yacht club, where there was another holiday party with food, entertainment, and Christmases in a Bag, which included trees, stands, lights, and ornaments.
    Loretta Courtney, one of the volunteers, said she had asked a 17-year-old what she wanted for Christmas. “A bed,” she had replied.
    “It’s a shame that this happens,” said Stephen Daige, one of the rugby players. “If the hurricane didn’t change course, they would be helping us.”