At United Way of Westchester and Putnam headquarters on Central Avenue, a second large wave of Hurricane Sandy-related calls from Westchester and Long Island was met by about 20 volunteers and staff workers on a recent weekday morning.
Seated at long tables and cramped cubicles in the main call center and an “overflow room,” they cradled phones to their ears while filling out disaster assistance forms that would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The volunteers included a laid-off Wall Street Journal reporter.
Most calls came during the day, but at the request of government officials, the United Way’s 2-1-1 regional helpline will be open around the clock at least until Nov. 10 to assist storm victims. By Nov. 5, one week after Sandy ripped through the metropolitan area, the center in White Plains had answered more than 5,000 disaster calls. The United Way’s affiliated website, Hudson211.org, had counted more than 500,000 searches, said United Way spokeswoman Shannon Cobb.
“A lot of people were calling earlier about getting to work,” she said. “That was a big issue, road closures. …We had one woman, her first day of work was the storm. …She was terrified of losing her job.”
Since FEMA declared the region a disaster area eligible for federal funds, 2-1-1 volunteers had been flooded by calls from residents completing disaster assistance applications by phone. “Yesterday we ended with well over 1,000 calls,” Cobb said.
Cobb said United Way of Westchester and Putnam has been helped by more than 70 volunteers at its call center through the disaster recovery. “A lot of the companies we work with have been helping us out by sending employees,” including PepsiCo and IBM, she said. “I was getting calls from people as far away as California. …They want to help.”
But help in another form was needed by the United Way in its role as administrator of the Westchester County Disaster Recovery Fund.
County Executive Robert P. Astorino when creating the fund this month said it would help address longer-term needs of Westchester storm victims that are not covered by insurance, other nonprofit agencies or FEMA and other government agency programs. “A neighbors helping neighbors fund,” said Astorino.
But donations from the county’s corporate neighbors were not flowing to the county fund in its first week.
“A lot of people have donated goods. Not a lot have donated money,” said Naomi Adler, president and CEO of United Way of Westchester and Putnam. “Both the United Way and the Westchester County Disaster Relief Fund really need funding.”
“I’m a little disappointed that some of our local large corporations” have not made monetary contributions to the county fund, Adler said. “We need the community to be there with us – the corporate community and the individuals.”
Though the United Way center saw only a trickle, donations from businesses flowed more generously to American Red Cross and other national, regional and municipal disaster relief and recovery organizations.
The growing post-storm list of million-dollar corporate donors – 25 as of Nov. 2 – included Connecticut-based General Electric Co., which gave $1 million to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and $100,000 to the United Way of America for distribution to local communities most in need.
New York Life Insurance Co., which last spring opened a new White Plains office and announced expansion plans in Westchester, said it will donate $1 million to Sandy relief efforts, allocating $500,000 to the American Red Cross, $250,000 to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and $250,000 for local recovery efforts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
New York Life also will match contributions by its employees, agents and retirees to the American Red Cross or Feeding America, a network of food pantry organizations, with no limitation.
Headquartered in White Plains, Heineken USA pledged to match hurricane-related employee donations 5-to-1.
In Purchase, MasterCard Inc. pledged $300,000 to the American Red Cross and offered a 2-to-1 match of disaster relief donations from employees. The company also will waive interchange fees on domestic MasterCard transactions in the U.S through Nov. 30.
In Elmsford, the Food Bank for Westchester issued an appeal for funds and noted helpful corporate contributions from Bosca, Dannon, Morgan Stanley, PepsiCo and Pernod Ricard.
In the first major private donations of supplies following the storm, Purchase-based PepsiCo Inc. and Walmart together donated 14 trailer truckloads of food, beverages, cleaning supplies and children’s games to New York state officials.
PepsiCo contributed five trailer truckloads of beverages and three trailer truckloads of snacks totaling more than 100,000 cases of products. The company also committed to donating another 22 trailer truckloads of similar supplies in a one-week span.
Nationwide, the business community as of Nov. 7 had pledged cash and in-kind contributions to the recovery effort exceeding $90 million, according to the Business Civic Leadership Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which tracks storm-related corporate donations.