Interview with Edward Malave, New Church International, Coney Island
Interviewee: Edward S. Malave, New Church International, Coney Island.
Interviewers: Shelly Ronen and Michael Gould-Wartofsky
A: So everything exactly — everything that was in here was lost. So from the third day of after, Saturday, we cleaned up for the first three days and then right after that we started to help the community here, so that’s what you see that we are doing. Actually, before we were having it over here, we had all those — the systems here. We had tables, we had all the food and everything here, and we had this whole entire area here set up with clothing and all kinds of stuff for the residents to come. We were open every single day from 11:00 to 6:00 and I mean every, single, day including the weekends. But I think that it took a toll on us and I ended up last week busting this muscle. I guess because it took a lot trucks, a lot of people are helping me but they come with a lot of trucks and no help to unload, so here I am, you know over-doing it for every single day and finally something happens to your body that you cannot do it no more.
So we now are open. We moved the operation to the front you see that. We have a lot of — the rooms are full of the material and the food all the things that are coming from different organizations and we’re expecting more. As a matter of fact, we were supposed to get a delivery today. We’ll definitely get delivery tomorrow. We’ll get delivery next Wednesday. We have people like the River Fund is working with us. We have the Verrazano Center Rotary Club is working with us. We have the Red Cross was able to give us a couple — a truck full of assistants. We had — we have City Harvest is going to work with us also bringing us material and food, a lot of food for the families. Last — we have been providing food at an average of 100 families per day. And we do give on a weekend, you know like, on a Saturday easily we could give 250, 300 boxes of food to the people. And interestingly enough people are still learning that we are here so we are still getting a lot of new people that didn’t know that we were here.
There’s so much to be done because I live here in Coney Island myself. And my house is destroyed. I just moved back into my apartment two days ago. And that’s the only apartment that has heat. There’s four apartments in the unit, the four units. And the others are two are destroyed and one of the units that is livable has no heat, so that makes it difficult. There’s a lot of people here right on 20th Street where we are at that still have no power. They have no power, no heat, no nothing and they are living inside the apartments in those conditions.
Q: So it sounds like people really need I mean mostly the heat and the hot water and the food that you guys are distributing.
Q: What else do you think people are kind of in need of right now like, what else are you guys providing?
A: Well, it’s many things. We are creating several resources here including counseling. A lot of the people do need counseling. There are this one thing is for people to understand the process. The process is very slow. No one — everybody is asking many questions and they are getting the wrong answers. And I understand why because they are basically getting to the lower level clerks and they are given just certain answers to give. And usually at the very end, they are the wrong answers, you know, which I’ll give you an example of that. Take everything out of your home — I’m sorry don’t take anything out of your home because FEMA has to see it — wrong answer. That created a very difficult situation for some people, which may get some people sick and a lot of people did end up in the hospital: contamination in the atmosphere things of that nature.
Get the walls off as soon as possible — wrong answer. Because that make the resident do all that work and pay it out when actually the city was coming right after to do the work for them without them having to pay for it. And now, there’s no way for the city to reimburse them their money. A friend of mine right in front of my house he repaired his boiler he repaired it up water heater does everything. A week after that they knock on his door to do the job for him for free and he already did it. So it’s that kind of bad information that is being — is coming around. Even those that are working with Rapid Repairs I don’t know if you heard of Rapid Repairs but those that are working with Rapid Repairs they did themselves admit that they are behind schedule that the process is very slow and that there are people that they haven’t got to those people at this point. There are a lot of people displaced. They need to get back home. You know I’m still answering you the things that they need, okay.
Q: It’s a lot.
A: There’s another thing that I ask here as a Minister in my church, I said to the people who lost the most here in Coney Island. And you know the tendency of the city is to think that the greatest losers were the resident themselves and they were losers but not the greatest losers. The businessmen of Coney Island lost the most, okay. Because they invested in this place and they are the one with the grocery store with the pizzeria with the Laundromat that are needed by the community. Unless they get the funding and the money to reinvest in the community and put these businesses, back in place the community is suffering because they don’t know where to go to wash cloths. They don’t where to go to get a breakfast. Like, I saw a lady screaming and yelling outside in the street milk, milk, milk and there was no place to get milk. And that’s one of the reasons why we have it here we’re providing this assistance to the community so that things like that are taken care of at least at this level.
The information is not going around like when FEMA does come around and they have something to give to the community they come to this place over here. But most of the people from the rest of the area they don’t even know that FEMA came that day. Only those that saw that they showed up with a truck and by the time, somebody hears that they are here, the information is gone.
There was some Buddhist Monks that came to the funeral home here. And they had according to their own website $600 million dollars to give to those that were affected by Sandy. They wanted to put the money in the hands of the community. There were giving cards $300, $600 cards, you know $300, $400 for the residents $600 cards for the homeowners. They did good but a lot of people missed out. And a lot of the people that actually got the money were not the people that actually got affected because there’s no way to verify these things the right way. You know you have somebody who lives on the 11th floor and he didn’t lose anything with the exception of maybe some food in the refrigerator. And then you have someone so many people that live in the first floor apartments and the basement apartments and they lost everything and there’s absolutely nothing to replace what they lost.
So those things are I think that are needed. How to provide the information, how to communicate it correctly, how to come around and see who the people that really are affected are, you know taken care of. Here we have a house of worship, I don’t know if I told you this before, but FEMA does not want to provide any funding or any help to us because we are a house of worship, which is wrong absolutely wrong. Here we are helping the community from day one and we should be the first place that they should say, you know what let’s help them out. Let’s put those walls up just for health and safety, you know a lot of people are coming through here but no it is not happening.
So some representatives from FEMA just came over and they themselves, you know just before you he’s shaking my hand and he say God bless you. He’s saying you do such a good job and I’m so sorry to tell you but you’re going to have to go back and reapply and say that you are something else other than a church. I said I can’t do that.
Q: Right. You’ve already been through one set of applications for —
A: Yes, we have. So he says tell them you are a distribution center because you are. Yes, I am but they are going to ask me for my name the name of my organization. It’s New Church International, okay. So immediately they — this is what is so wrong with the system is so wrong. And someone needs to come down and say, you know what we need to change this a little bit, because people set up rules that don’t apply to everybody and they have to know where the exception is. They have to actually see where the exception is at.
The corner store, the grocery corner store, over here the man there he just purchased the store just four weeks before Sandy. And right after that, the store is closed. It’s bad for all of us, okay. It’s bad for all of us. He just spent every last cent he had every cent, all the savings and what I hear is that they have to apply, they have to get loans, you know, and it’s very difficult for people to have to get into debt again and things of that nature. There is so much money that is been approved by the Federal Government but I doubt it that it is getting in the right hands, you know. Some of is but a lot of it is not getting to the right hands. However, I don’t want to be what do you call it discouraged by that. In fact, we know that there’s a lot of good people that I found out. There’s a lot of good people. And good for you too since you are trying to get this information for yourself.
One of the important things for you to understand that I love to understand myself as a student, as a teacher, is that these are private organizations. This is our government who’s funding us here I’m talking about with the donations. These are just simple private residents that came over and says how can we help you, you know. How can we get relief to these people right now? I have a website that I have put together. I have to fix it, but there’s some information there. It’s called Coneyislandsandy.org. And in that website, I was able — I grabbed some information the little information that was being said about Coney Island because that’s another one of the problems, very little media attention to the area. Absolutely, no media attention sporadically here and there.
Q: We’re still curious about that.
Q: Why with Coney Island.
Q: Yeah, what do you think that’s about?
A: It’s been neglected big time. I have to say we don’t have a voice, you know regrettably we don’t have political voice that should scream loud enough to say come here to Coney Island and see what’s going on. I mean image this building alone, five and a half feet of water in here, okay. So from the street level it should be up close to seven feet of water. Now, image that in the entire area going all the way to Brighton Beach and Sea Gate. We heard a lot of the other places like Staten Island, we heard a lot of the Rockaway’s, areas like that, and I understand that they had a lot of devastation. They haven’t mentioned Coney Island. They haven’t mentioned that we lost people in Coney Island. You know I lost one of my members. She lived right in from here. And she died as a result of the storm. You know so this are —
Q: Do you know happened to her?
A: Well, she didn’t want to go and she had — she was going through a problem with her liver. And when the storm comes over and breaks her boiler or oil the oil then mixes with the water and the fumes start to come up. And she is receiving this fume but now of course unable to get out of her apartment nobody able to come over to rescue her so she spent all that time there and her liver unable to remove the contaminants that were coming to her into her body. She ends up in the hospital by Saturday she dies by Sunday. So that’s — those are the situations and the actual realities here on Coney Island. But nobody took the decency of coming around and say, you know what happened here, you know and a lot happened.
Another thing that happened here that is so important is that we do have a lot of immigrants and they have no documentations, which means that when they go to FEMA they don’t have a Social Security and they cannot get a FEMA number, they cannot be helped, okay and what happens to them? What do we do with them? They are real. These are families. These are people with children, small children. So we find ourselves over here helping them and it’s so sad to see them come and says what do you need from me because we have nothing do we need anything to give you. And many of them basically saying — avoiding the place because they think that something is going to happen to them and that’s so wrong.
So we had to spread the word that for them to trust us to come here. Besides asking for them to sign so that we have a list of the people who we are helping every day we’re not asking for ID’s, we’re not asking for anything like that we’re just helping the people it’s as simple as that. And those that and the interesting thing is that most of these immigrants are the ones that were living on the first floor and the basement apartments and so they are the ones that lost the most. So somehow we have to, you know we have to be humane we have to have some humanitarian love there, you know and just take care of people just because they are people, you know. Sometimes we take care of the dog faster than we take care of the human being and nothing against the dog, but things like that.
I mentioned to you that on the 23rd we had — this place was huge. Did I say that to you or no?
A: For the whole entire month of November, we register every single day people to come over and get toys on the 23rd of December. The registration was amazing. We registered 1,800 children that were on paper. Now, once the line starts to build up it doubles. So we probably — we actually gave over 3,000 toys on that day. It was huge. It was big. And then food and clothing, coats, gloves, hats, and shoes. Everything you could think of was actually provided to the people. So those are the things that we are doing.
Q: We’re also curious, you talked a lot about like, the organizations that have been coming and giving donations.
Q: I’m curious about your sense of the future of how Coney Island is going to recover. What do you think it is going to take?
A: They keep on asking me.
A: Which is good that they will ask me what do I think, how is it going to go. I keep on telling them this got to go for a longer time than people think. You cannot just come here, do a good deed, move on, and forget about the whole thing like, nothing else is happening. There’s a lot happening. A lot of the people here were working on Coney Island so they lost their jobs so they have no income. These are family with children that at least the minimum they need to continue to eat for a while. So if the food continues to come it will be good and the organizations are willing to stay.
In one sense, right here, I don’t know about the other places, but I was able to partner with the River Fund. They’ve been doing this kind of work here on Coney Island for 21 years. But they were a little bit unknown by most people. And once they know that — they asked me if they could operate from here. I told them fine, yes, do that. And then every other Saturday the 2nd and the 4th Saturday, they are here and that’s not going to stop as long as we’re open that’s going to continue. They provide me with food for 500 families every single one of those days. So that’s not bad. And then in between they still give me pallets of food for me to continue to give it during the week, so that’s not bad.
When it comes to City Harvest, they are planning on stopping somewhere in mid-February unless there is a need for more, you know. The problem that they have for Sandy I’m talking about if City Harvest continues but the program for Sandy they want to know how far they are going to take it, so that’s mid-February. So for the next six weeks they are going to give me pallets of food that according to them is boxes that will feed a four family for two to three days, so that’s not bad.
Occupy Sandy, have been helping us from day one. They are amazing, wonderful people. And of course, they give me more than just food. They are the ones that bring the pillows and the blankets and the irons, ironing boards, soap, and the detergent and brooms. And everything, you know that you could think of they’re bringing over here, truckloads and we’ve been able to supply those to the people. Occupy Sandy, I don’t know how long Occupy Sandy is going to stick around but they told me probably the next six months they are going to be in the area, so that would be good with them.
Q: Great. You’re doing such amazing work. I want to ask kind of a longer scale question too like, I think some of us on this project are really curious about if this were to happen again, like, how would the community be ready for this and what sort of changes need to be made in the longer term. I’m just curious if anyone is talking or —
A: I don’t know if I should give you my way of doing it but yeah.
Q: Please, I would love your way of doing it.
A: Well, I would have never thought, nobody, alive would of thought that something like this would happen, nobody alive, because this has never happened before here on Coney Island. It happen where you have water probably rise up to two or three feet at the street level, which means in here it would probably be six inches to a foot of water, which is not bad. But to have five and a half feet of water inside a building that’s — nobody would have thought of that. Now, that we can think of that we have to think about different ways of preparing the homes and making our repairs.
My home suffered no damage of the floor what many other homes their floors are destroyed. The difference is their homes is wood. Mine although is the wooden frame I had precede this before, so what I did was put three to four — three inches of cement over the floor. And then what I did is I put ceramic tiles. So what that does that seals the floor and the water not penetrating saved that part of the house. So I don’t have to spend money in that type of repairs while other people are repairing the whole entire thing.
There’s a church on 21st Street that they had to do the whole entire floor because it is wood. This floor I will paint it and keep it going but that’s because it is concrete. There are some ideas that I have provided to some of the people and architects agree with me. The reason I do have this information is I am retired from the New York Housing Authority after 31 years working for them as a Maintenance Supervisor.
Q: What a great perspective you have, yeah.
A: Yes. And when I come to problems that had to do with flooding in my basements and things of that nature, I had to become creative and creative is very important. So I would say and I said to a friend of mine, I said while don’t you since you’re putting a brand new floor throw cement right over it, and then after you do that, put the ceramic tiles and then half of the wall up. Put it in ceramic all around, put the grout, seal it, and create a pool idea. It’s like a pool just like a tub, okay. If it happens again, you know that all you have to do is take a hose, hose everything down, and keep on going. That’s one way of doing it. Of course, that’s one way of saving that part of the building.
The other part of the building and this I didn’t want to tell you, but interestingly enough had I rented a truck and had I take one afternoon of that day, they gave me plenty of time to know it was coming. And I would of put that on my truck and I would take the truck to a higher ground I would of never lost anything. I would of just come right back and unload everything and put it right back into place, okay. Yet I didn’t do that not this time around. I lost everything. I mean these are the last chairs fifteen of them that were saved or sixteen that were saved. One of the biggest lost that I have here is a copy machine, a copier, that I purchased for my business. I was going to open my business on the third — on the last — on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and I couldn’t of course, everything was destroyed. But my copier is a $10,000 copier that went underwater.
Q: What kind is it?
Q: What kind?
A: It was a Christian Book Store, but it had a copy center and a café.
Q: Wow. And that copier I was wondering what the –.
A: So the copier, the whole thing, I mean big losses. Big, big losses. And because it wasn’t open when I go to the place and they said how long was it open. I said it wasn’t open, but I have all the receipts. I got everything. And he said, no, it wasn’t open we can’t pay you for it, so. So it’s like, I’m disqualified all over the place. We have to keep a smile.
Q: That’s the most important thing.
A: Yes, absolutely.
A: And in my case, I’m here every single day even though I don’t open now only Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for the public, I am here every day doing other work and things of that nature. If I wasn’t if I had to sit home waiting for this to be over I will go crazy then I need a shrink, you know that would be impossible, yeah.
We also have services here, religious services, on Tuesday nights and Friday nights and on Sunday, so we’re busy doing whatever it is we need to do. So I think you have a lot of information.
Q: Thank you so much I really want to be respectful of your time. Is there anything else you wanted to ask? I’m just making sure, if there are any other questions that jump to me that you wanted to —
A: The one thing that I would like to ask you guys is that everybody asks me what do I need. What do I need and I didn’t tell you this.
A: I need money. Money is not coming. Everything else is coming but I don’t get money. I’m not getting any money. Although, I have this website that I just told you and I have another website can actually donate directly, it’s not happening. And that is a little bit sad because I have this — these things are on every single day. My lights are on every single day. The operation is consuming every single day so much money. We are exhausted here. Every time my bounty has come, I can’t let them go without eating so I have to buy something for them to eat some hot meal and things of that nature, so it’s a lot of money being consumed. And then there are so much more that we haven’t been able to do because of money. So what I tell people is money is a very important issue here. And don’t get me wrong some people have responded. Some people have trusted me enough to provide me with certain money even money for the community that they have given me for me to give to the people and I have done that. But it’s not enough based on the budget that is needed here because we are right now with the losses and the operating budget we’re talking about of minimum $150,000 to $200,000 that has not come, you see. So if you can spread the word to good people. I’m looking for good people. People that really understand what we’re doing here is real. Because no media and no information has been reported and has been given to the rest of the world, they don’t know what’s going on here. They think everything is okay and it’s not.
Q: Right. Absolutely, yeah. I think that’s something that we are committed to doing spreading the experience. And we have your website information so we’ll definitely pass that around as well.
A: Okay, I really appreciate it.
Q: And I would love to leave a card with you if you think of anything else that you would like to share with us or tell us.
Q: Thank you.
Q: We really appreciate it.
A: Well, thank you so much for your interest of coming up here.
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