Volunteering on Staten Island: Health of residents still in danger

This past weekend, I ventured out to Staten Island with my son Wyatt, Lis Wiehl, and her daughter Dani. We met up with Nat Candido, the stage manager for “Imus in the Morning” on the Fox Business Network and more recently, the founder of Operation Shove it Sandy.

We happily volunteered our time and met some Staten Island residents whose cars, homes and lives were literally turned upside down by Hurricane Sandy – and in many cases remain that way. Nat and his team have been working tirelessly to help these people repair their flooded homes, distribute supplies, and regain some semblance of the lives they had before.

We went door-to-door, handing out kits full of my Greening the Cleaning product line. As we walked around the neighborhood, I was overcome by the stench of mold – and who knows what else – inside homes, and in the air outside too. As these people continue to suffer the emotional toll of Hurricane Sandy, I have no doubt they are physically suffering as well, whether with a dangerous cough, a lingering headache, or other symptoms they’ve yet to realize.

In their current state, none of the homes we visited are fit for human habitation; and yet, some residents have nowhere else to go. The lucky ones have been jumping around from place to place, living with unaffected friends and family members and accumulating the basic essentials (like clothing) as they go along.

Operation Shove it Sandy has been a fantastic resource for Staten Islanders, helping them tear down walls and, in many instances, providing them a shoulder to cry on. But what these people really need is somewhere else to live while their homes are restored – a residence free of mold, exposed fiberglass insulation, asbestos, and other hazardous conditions. Breathing in these toxins can cause countless health concerns, from wheezing and skin irritation in the short term to lung infections and cancer in the long term.

Some of the people we met told us that at night there's a red glow in the skies above Staten Island. Whether this spooky phenomenon is generated by particulates floating in the air from rotting homes or some other source, I can’t imagine this colored air is prime for breathing.

Whenever a major catastrophe strikes and hundreds of millions of dollars is donated to charity, I can’t help but wonder exactly where this money goes and how quickly the people hurting receive the aid they so desperately need. After witnessing firsthand the destruction on Staten Island, I can say for certain that six weeks after Hurricane Sandy, help has not arrived fast enough. And as people’s homes continue to deteriorate, I promise you this: their health is next.

Staten Islanders are survivors. Through their immense strength, I know they will overcome this catastrophe and repair their communities, with the help of people like Nat Candido and his group of volunteers.

Support their efforts by donating supplies, money or your time: www.facebook.com/operationshoveitsandy.