Rallying for flood victims

Disaster relief technician Willibald Benzinger helps Kathy Stewart apply for a U.S. Small Business Administration disaster assistance loan at the Riverhead firehouse Tuesday. Ms. Stewart’s granddaughter Autumm Pharr, 8, lives with her along with two other grandchildren.

Kathy Stewart has reached out to just about everyone, from the Red Cross to the town, seeking help after flooding damaged her Harrison Avenue home last month.

She lost a freezer full of meat, antique chairs, rugs, clothes and her oil burner, thanks to water in her basement, which is still about two feet deep. Ms. Stewart, who rents the house and lives there with her three young grandchildren, has been without heat and hot water since the late March storm and has been showering at friends’ homes.

Though her credit is poor and her only income is disability payments, she went to the U.S. Small Business Association’s temporary office at the Riverhead Fire Department Tuesday to see if it could offer any assistance.

“I’m between a rock and a hard place trying to keep my family together,” Ms. Stewart said.

It will be at least a week before she knows if she qualifies for a low-interest $4,000 loan to help pay for repairs — and up to a month before any money might be distributed.

Ms. Stewart is just one of scores of people still looking for help a month after a monster storm dumped more than eight inches of rain in parts of Riverhead, flooding many basements and displacing at least a dozen families.

The SBA is making loans available at the request of Governor David Paterson, who announced April 15 that damage in the region was not sufficient to warrant an application for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But homeowners and renters can apply to the SBA for loans of up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged property, as well as loans of up to $40,000 to replace personal possessions, including cars. Business owners may be eligible for up to $2 million in loans.

SBA representatives have been on hand at the Riverhead firehouse since April 27 and will be available there through Thursday, May 6, to answer questions and guide residents through the loan application process.

Meanwhile, community members have been seeking other ways to raise money for flood victims.

Pastor Charles Coverdale of First Baptist Church of Riverhead and his wife, Shirley, have been spearheading the fundraising effort through the church’s Horton Avenue Flood Fund. While funds are coming in, they said, more money is needed.

H2M, a Melville-based engineering firm that frequently works in Riverhead Town, has pledged a $25,000 donation to the Horton Avenue Flood Fund.

“We’ve been doing work for the town for many years,” said H2M vice president Bob Scheiner, who also worked for the town’s community development department in the 1970s and 80s. “We believe we are a part of the community.”

Blackman plumbing on West Main Street in Riverhead has agreed to donate oil burners and last week Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter announced that builder Gregg Rechler, who is developing a technology park in Calverton, will pay five construction workers for five days to work on Horton Avenue homes.

The Riverhead 7-Eleven near the Roanoke Avenue traffic circle collected $2,000; half went to Horton Avenue resident Ivory Brown and half to the church fund.

Members of the Riverhead GOP are also doing their part. The Riverhead Republican Club will host a fundraiser dinner on May 10 to benefit residents whose homes were damaged by last month’s flooding.

The dinner is set for 7 p.m. at Martha Clara Vineyard on Sound Avenue in Riverhead. The cost is $50 per person and checks can be mailed to the Riverhead Republican Club, P.O. Box 1246, Riverhead, NY 11901. Gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention sponsorships are also available for $1,000, $500, $250 and $150, respectively. All proceeds will benefit the First Baptist Church of Riverhead Horton Avenue Flood Fund.

“Someone has to step up to the plate and do this,” said Brian Mills, the club’s vice president. For more information, contact Mr. Mills at 252-5005.

On a smaller scale, private citizens in Riverhead are sending checks, donating food and clothing and doing whatever else they can to help.

Bob Fraser of Baiting Hollow is looking to donate one used oil burner in perfectly acceptable condition to someone who needs it.

“I want to see if I can help,” he said. “It’s not a major contribution, but it’s a contribution.”

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