New York City’s “Forgotten Borough” got more than a little attention from a massive group of would be marathon runners … and a lot more people from all over the world yesterday.
The deserved focus on battered but unbowed Staten Island came as a result of the efforts of a throng of runners shut out of the canceled far-too-late New York City Marathon, who refocused their training and newly found free time on helping some folks who’ve endured a far bigger challenge than a 26-mile foot race.
And while anyone associated with the marathon has been blasted for his association to something that seems as frivolous as an episode of a pre-storm episode of The Jersey Shore in comparison to the post-Hurricane Sandy troubles facing our city, the action of these marathoners–some from as far away as the South Pacific–gave the people of Staten Island and the world at large a second wind.
Multi-marathon veteran Dr. Jordan Metzl turned his attention to finding a way to aid the tens of thousands of Staten Islanders who have been left without power, shelter and hope since Sandy shattered their homes and lives last Monday.
“We were ambivalent about the race,” Metzl said. “Once it was canceled we tried to figure out what we could do to make a difference. So an email chain went around among a few runners and we made an event that that grew in 36 hours from a concept to a movement.”
Metzl threw up a Facebook page asking for volunteers under the title, “New York Runners in Support of Staten Island,” on Friday night and the response was overwhelming … and not limited to “New York Runners.”
“We went to bed that night and we already had about 250 likes,” Dr. Metzl told the throng of volunteers that packed the South Ferry Terminal to make the half-hour journey to Staten Island to lend their help. “On Saturday morning we had over 1,000 likes on our page. Today we had almost 4,000.”
It seemed that nearly that many boarded two separate ferries to run to some of the most beleaguered areas in the borough where homes were destroyed and lives were lost in Monday’s marauding storm.
Runners from all over the world–most here for the heavily criticized marathon—were quick and eager to respond to Metzl’s call.
“I was relieved when they canceled the marathon because no one wanted to be a part of something that was considered to be in poor taste … and this is my 12th year running the marathon,” said volunteer runner Caroline Desjardins of the Upper East Side. “All these people are trained and fit and willing and able and there are so many people hurting on Staten Island that this effort makes perfect sense.”
That somewhat unexpected outpouring of support went far beyond the Upper East Side. Runners arrived in the terminal from New Jersey, Connecticut, and even the Philippines to deliver much needed supplies to shattered people digging through the rubble that was their homes in ravaged areas like Midland Beach and Tottenville along the Staten Island shoreline.
Runners from all over the world were deployed based on the distances that they could comfortably run (6-8 miles, 10-12 miles, 12-14 miles, and 14+ miles) to deliver garbage bags, flashlights, canned goods and more to those who needed it.
And then there were the walkers who also lent a hand … and their legs. “This is a really great cause and we are not runners,” said Nicole Bryant of New Jersey who showed up with her friends Kerry Lucido of Spanish Harlem and April Pascual from the Upper West Side.
“My cousin lost a house and essentially everything they had,” said Lucido. “I felt very helpless for the first few days after the storm. But when I heard about this I actually felt empowered to help out.”
Still there was some skepticism about the effort from some officials. Two Staten Island police officers from the NYPD felt that the runners might be more a distraction than a help.
“It’s great that they want to help, but this is completely disorganized,” said one officer. “They have no training and they are heading into dangerous areas where they can get in the way of recovery efforts and even hurt themselves. This ain’t like watching TV. They can go home at the end of the day, but these people on Staten Island are living this nightmare. Still, you know their hearts are in the right place.”
But Some claim the police were unable to respond to the organizers’ attempts to involve the proper authorities, most likely because city officials are stretched so thin right now.
“We called the police and asked for advice,” said Erol Sarikaya, an Upper West Side resident who helped plan the event with Metzl and several others. “There wasn’t much they could do.”
Many of the residents of Staten Island, however, appreciated both the sentiment behind the event and the much needed supplies.