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Faces of the Flood: Dorothy Maffei
7/23/12 - 10:48 am
Owner, Home Goods kitchen store
Margaretville, Delaware County
Above: Dorothy Maffei in an Arkville warehouse where she and teams of volunteers sorted and stored tons of clothing donated after Tropical Storm Irene. Photo by Christopher Auger-Dominguez.
Dorothy Maffei calls the clothing donations "the tsunami after the hurricane."
Flood victims need new, clean clothes in the first few days after a disaster. So Maffei, a volunteer who ran recovery operations for the village of Margaretville out of her store after Tropical Storm Irene, began accepting donations.
Soon, the flood of clothing was its own disaster. Under the impression that they are helping, many people used the flood as an excuse to clean out their closets.
Soon, every church and fire hall in Margaretville was crammed with musty sweaters, smelly shoes, and moldy stuffed animals. Volunteers had to be recruited just to fold and sort the tons of offerings. There was no way to get rid of the excess quickly -- for the short term, it had to be stored.
The solution was an old factory in the hamlet of Arkville that once manufactured baseball bats. Maffei and other village volunteers did the backbreaking labor of bagging and hauling the tons of clothing there. The warehouse couldn't hold it all -- the excess went into rented dumpsters that had to be paid for by private donors and out of flood relief funds.
Maffei thought that she only needed the bat warehouse for a few weeks. A year later, she hopes to get it empty by the one-year anniversary of the flood.
"We are committed to closing it by the end of August," she said. "We are now working with the City Mission of Schenectady to give them all our excess clothing. We are working on bagging and boxing it now so they can take it."
Managing the flood of clothing donations was only a fraction of the volunteer work Maffei did after Irene. She transformed her store, which wasn't damaged in the flood, into an emergency response center. She put in a second phone line. She bought supplies and began handing them out. She organized teams of volunteers who cleaned out buildings and relocated homeless flood survivors.
Soon, when anyone in Margaretville needed anything recovery-related, they went to Maffei. They're still doing it a year later.
"My background was production and stage managing for off-Broadway shows," she said. "Give me a clipboard, and I know what to do."
Interview with Dorothy Maffei
Watershed Post: What happened to you during the flood?
Dorothy Maffei: I was out of town in New Hampshire, where they had no power. It took me ten hours to get here through Vermont. I finally got here, jumped the barricade, and checked out the store. Then some friends said: "They need food at the fire hall for breakfast." So the next day, I turned the store into the volunteer center, and put in an extra phone line… We used this as the center of everything. I would liase with the fire department and the town people... We put together fact sheets about how to prevent mold, and then we just started working 24/7. There were some wonderful people involved. People came from all over.
WP: I know that getting supplies and handling donations was a huge problem. How did you deal with that?
DM: We started off buying stuff, me and my friends, and any customer that came in [to the store]. We stockpiled the supplies here in the hall, which drove everybody crazy... Then we got donations from all over...one man in Rhinebeck helped us out a tremendous amount. He raised and donated money for battery operated lights, shovels, rakes, work gloves, pry bars, flashlights, brooms, and more.
WP: How long were you in emergency mode?
DM: You know, I barely remember it. Six weeks, I think.
WP: What was one of the moments you remember best from the flood and the recovery?
DM: One of the great moments was the first or second Sunday, when this huge group of boys' and girls' soccer teams came from Delhi and helped clean out the buildings on Main Street. Another moment was when they evacuated all those buildings during the flood. Only one person could go in at a time, so they were passing their belongings out one by one.
About the Faces of the Flood Project
A flood leaves a lot behind. Brand new channels carved through roads. Mud that’s too black to be dirt. Mountains of paperwork.
Tropical Storms Irene and Lee flooded towns across the Northeast US last summer. In the Catskills region of upstate New York, four people died. Many more were cut off from the outside world without access to power, telephone, or clean water. Houses washed away. Roads and bridges vanished. Families lost track of each other.
Everyone in the Catskills has a flood story. Some of them made national -- even international -- news. But most didn’t.
There's the 21-year-old who led a string of abandoned horses to safety through rising floodwaters. The village trustee who thought his father was dead when he heard the dam-break sirens blast. The retired history teacher who had known for 25 years that a stream would carry his house away -- and then watched it happen.
The Watershed Post’s Faces of the Flood Project tells the untold stories of the 2011 Catskills floods.
The series will be published in installments this summer, leading up to the August 28 anniversary of the floods. You can see the list of stories on the righthand side of this page. Go to the project homepage to find subjects on a map.
We want to hear your flood stories, too. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org call 845-481-0155.