KINGSTON – Residents of the Wyoming Valley – all too familiar with destructive hurricanes -- are doing what so many did here four decades ago and again last year: helping strangers in need.
A 48-foot trailer parked in the Temple B'nai B'rith parking lot through Saturday is being loaded with food, cleaning supplies, clothes and other items. Then it will be driven out to Coney Island, N.Y. on Sunday and its contents distributed to those in need, which in the tight-knit beachfront community is almost everyone.
Rhondi Nachlis, of Kingston, organized the drive after hearing about the devastation from her brother Dick Zigun, who is the head of Coney Island USA, the institution behind several Coney Island attractions.
Nachlis visited her brother on Saturday and couldn't believe what she saw in the usually bustling tourism area.
There were no lights, the roads were almost deserted because nobody can get gas. It was a very eerie feeling, she said.
People were trying to clear out their flooded homes and keep the mold at bay. Neighbors were helping neighbors any way they could, whether it was sharing food, offering a room to sleep in or pitching in to clean away debris.
Since she has returned, Coney Island and coastal towns in New York and New Jersey were hit by a nor'easter, which caused more damage and left half a foot of snow, making the mission even more urgent.
She said she's been pleasantly surprised by the feedback and assistance she's received since putting out the call for help.
Sonny Myslak, of Edwardsville, donated his trailer and volunteered to drive the supplies east on Sunday.
The synagogue allowed it to be parked in its lot. The Wyoming Valley West Middle School student council has begun to collect money and supplies.
Area businesses have donated supplies and money, including Kurlancheek Home Furnishings in Exeter, which is dropping off a new mattress and box spring before week's end, according to owner Ronne Kurlancheek.
It's amazing how people are. They have a heart of gold and they're worried about other people as much as themselves, Nachlis said as vehicle after vehicle pulled up on a blustery Thursday afternoon to donate supplies, mops, rolls of paper towels and even a medicine cabinet.
I don't know many of these peoples. They're strangers, Nachlis said as Rabbi Roger Lerner helped place supplies in the back of the truck.
Among those strangers were JoAnn and Sterling Spau of Wilkes-Barre, who had the trunk and backseat of their car filled with items, some from their home, others from local retailers.
Tammy Engel, of Kingston, pulled up to drop off items and gave credit to Nachlis' efforts.
She wanted to help her brother and found a way to help an entire community, Engel said.
Other groups in Northeastern Pennsylvania are helping, too. A group at the University of Scranton held a drop-off event on Thursday and will accept donations of items in the donation box located on the second floor of the DeNaples Center through Wednesday, Nov. 21.
Also, a group of students at Misericordia University will leave for Staten Island, N.Y., today to deliver a van full of relief aid collected on campus and spend the weekend working in the neighborhood of an alumna whose neighborhood was severely damaged.
Where: Temple B'nai B'rith parking lot, 408 Wyoming Ave. Kingston. When: The truck will be there through Saturday, then it leaves for Coney Island on Sunday.
Items needed: New or gently used clothes, towels, sheets, blankets, hats, gloves, space heaters, first aid kits, Neosporin, hand sanitizer, daily food for workers, coffee, dehumidifiers, space heaters, fans, squeegees, mops, buckets, protective clothing such as hazmat suits, household heavy duty rubber gloves, N95 disposable respirators, paper towels, brooms, Lysol concentrated cleaner.
Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele is advising residents who are solicited for donations to charities that claim to help military veterans or victims of Hurricane Sandy, to ask questions about the organization before making a contribution.
While most charities are reputable and deliver most of the money they solicit to the causes they support, unfortunately some are not, said Aichele, whose department oversees charitable organizations.
She suggested asking for a phone number to call, a website to visit, or literature for more information. If someone is unwilling to give you this information, it should be a red flag.